Where the Wild Things Are

17 Years Later, the Pigeons Moved In

Is a home without challenges a home?

June  6, 2019
Photo by Danie Drankwalter

We spend a lot of time at Food52 offering up ways to improve your home life, with inspiration for cooking, handsome home goods, and tips to keep it a beautiful, organized, welcoming sanctuary. We don’t spend a lot of time on the realities of home ownership. Well, buckle up—that’s about to change. In Where the Wild Things Are, Amanda Hesser introduces us to some of the critters with whom her family has not-so-willfully cohabited over the years, hoping to inspire you to share your own stories. Bring on the funny disasters. The rants. And the helpful solutions, too!

(This is the sixth and final story in Amanda’s six-part series—check out her prior story here.)

Have I mentioned our pigeon problem? Remember the large maple tree that we removed so it could no longer act as an on-ramp for squirrels wanting to run upstairs and live in our ceiling? It turned out that the tree’s removal not only dismayed the judge downstairs—it was also seen as an act of genocide by our neighbor in the next building, whose apartment we look into from our kitchen and dining room.

Up until this point, our relationship with our neighbor across the way had been limited to us trying to decipher which of her dates would turn into boyfriends and guessing what she was cooking, or me dashing to the dryer to fetch a pair of pants in my underwear, hoping she didn’t see me. She and our kids would wave to each other now and then. But per N.Y.C. cultural tradition, she, Tad, and I never said hello or acknowledged one another in any way either through our windows or when we passed on the street.

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Top Comment:
“A number of years ago, a pigeon built a nest and laid eggs in a window box outside our daughters' bedroom in our NYC apartment. We thought it was sweet until a)the mother bird sat on the nest for weeks and started to stink up the place, even through the closed window and b)the babies hatched and were incredibly ugly. If you want cute, stick with baby chickens! :- )”
— Sherri M.

Her landlord had asked us to remove a mulberry tree that was growing into a brick wall between our buildings. That’s when we received an email from this neighbor, asking that we not remove it. She had moved to this neighborhood specifically for its trees and bird population, she explained, and ever since we’d extracted the maple, the local bird population had been threatened. She punctuated her balanced yet intense plea by naming all 33 bird species, including a Tufted Titmouse and Yellow-rumped Warbler, that resided outside our windows. She had me at Titmouse.

The judge downstairs replied to her, mentioning that it was me who had asked that the maple tree be removed (wait, wasn’t this about the other tree?) and that he’d happily keep the mulberry.

Because we see this Concerned Neighbor every day, I wrote back explaining our previous squirrel infestation, that we were also sad to lose the maple, and would absolutely support keeping the mulberry tree. This last sentiment had been echoed by everyone in our building.

But her landlord would have none of it.

The tree was taken down last year. A few months afterward, we noticed that the Concerned Neighbor was no longer living in her apartment alone. No, there were pigeons in there too, flying freely, sitting on her windowsill to watch as she cooked dinner.

Soon there were many more pigeons outside, too. Our deck railing, which the maple tree’s limbs used to embrace, became a perch for so many pigeons—aka Rock Doves, according to the Concerned Neighbor—that the deck and all of our outdoor furniture was promptly spackled with pigeon droppings, and we could no longer sit on our deck.

Tad and I flipped into our now sadly automatic house-protection mode and called in one of our cabal of exterminators. Tad arranged to have pigeon spikes installed around the edge of the deck and on a few of our windowsills. He also asked the exterminator to reseal the chicken wire under our deck, which we’d installed as part of the great squirrel-proofing a few years earlier, and which had somehow come loose.

We were away for three weeks in Florida when the work was performed. So that’s when the emails started pouring in. Our Concerned Neighbor was beside herself—by reattaching the wire around the deck, we’d trapped some baby pigeons who hadn’t yet fledged. (For New Yorkers who always wonder why you never see young pigeons, now you know where they all are.) Tad replied immediately to try to help, and was working on a plan with her and the judge when she preemptively called the fire department, who rushed over, threw up a ladder and popped open our carefully mended chicken wire. She also suspected that the exterminator had planted poison under the deck. We reassured her that while we didn’t want pigeons living under our deck, we didn’t want to kill them either.

She responded kindly, but we were now clearly under her close surveillance. Once the pigeons fledged, she sent us a note letting us know so we could reattach the chicken wire. This time, we asked the man who does gardening for our building to take on this job. Unfortunately, we didn’t move quickly enough; there was a new nest filled with eggs underneath the deck, and the Concerned Neighbor once again went into DefCon 1.

Third time’s the charm. After this next batch fledged, we seized the moment and lashed the chicken wire closed for good.

Still, none of this reduced the amount of pigeon droppings on our deck. As a last resort, we ordered a hideous plastic owl, a humane and environmentally sound way to keep pigeons and other animals at bay. When I opened the box from Amazon, there was a note stating that it been hand-painted. We set the owl on the deck railing and left it to its task. Weeks passed; the pigeon poop levels remained high. One night, recently, I decided to check on our owl. It was nowhere to be found. I imagined the pigeons watching from a perch above me, one whispering to another, “Collateral damage.”

Or is all of this the Concerned Neighbor’s secret revenge?

Either way, I’m not sure Tad and I can muster the energy for a new strategy just yet. We might just lay low inside our bedbug-, moth-, and squirrel-free apartment—our own personal War Room—and start making plans for a new front in Operation Pigeon later in the year.

You may be wondering why we still live in this godforsaken apartment. Oddly enough, soldiering through all of these incidents has only deepened our attachment to the place, and to each other. What is a home if you don’t have to protect and nurture it? What is marriage if the repetition of the mundane can’t strengthen your appreciation for your spouse?

Every crisis heightens my gratitude for the moments of calm. When I turn on the washer and it doesn’t flood, I feel a little spark of joy. When I take a shower and the steam doesn’t smell like hot, dead rat, I’m thankful. When I sit at night and hear nothing—no scratching, no shuffling—I’m at peace.

We’re 10 months away from paying off the mortgage we took out 17 years ago. We’re not giving up now. We’ve survived in this home. It’ll soon be ours. All ours.

Fingers crossed.

P.S. A few months after I wrote this last post, a bird fell down our chimney and flew around our living room—to the delight of our son and his friend who was there for a sleepover. (Pro tip: To lure a bird to an open window, put sesame seeds on the ledge.) And then, two days before we put up this post, we discovered our latest pigeon development: a large, but admittedly beautiful, nest filled with two eggs, on our pigeon-poop-spackled deck, right below our dining room window. Message received.

Photo by Amanda Hesser

Check out the rest of Amanda’s series here. Share your own critter stories in the comments!
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Amanda Hesser

Written by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.


MarieGlobetrotter June 9, 2019
This series was excellent - funny and useful, especially for someone like me who lives in a city full of birds, raccoons, skunks, squirrels and other things that want to use apartments as their homes
Amanda H. June 10, 2019
Thanks so much for reading!
Noreen F. June 8, 2019
When I lived in a 7th-floor apartment downtown I used to cheer for the peregrine falcons when they went after the pigeons. The city is now considering using a birth-control-laced feed to keep the population down.
Matt June 8, 2019
Pigeons (and starlings) are introduced and invasive, so they're on of the few bird species in North America that don't have legal protection. This woman who lives next store is clearly crazy and possibly ill. Don't be afraid to just remove the nests when you see them. She might complain, but she can't do anything about it. Considering how she seems to be fostering them herself, you might actually have legal recourse against her. Call the health department and report her building, and see what happens.
Matt June 8, 2019
If you wanted to, you could get a bb gun and shoot them on your deck. It's also perfectly legal.
Amanda H. June 9, 2019
Thanks for the info -- I'm fine with her having them; would just like to be able to use our outdoor space again!
Sherri M. June 7, 2019
Boy have I enjoyed this series. A new book on the 'joys' of home ownership is definitely called for!
A number of years ago, a pigeon built a nest and laid eggs in a window box outside our daughters' bedroom in our NYC apartment. We thought it was sweet until a)the mother bird sat on the nest for weeks and started to stink up the place, even through the closed window and b)the babies hatched and were incredibly ugly. If you want cute, stick with baby chickens! :- )
Amanda H. June 8, 2019
Thankfully we haven't had pigeon odor to deal with!
Panfusine June 6, 2019
Delightful series. thank you so much. if these were chapters in a book, I'd be pre-ordering it right now.
Amanda H. June 8, 2019
Thanks so much for reading along!
Eric K. June 6, 2019
Found myself chuckling out loud on the train. Loved this moment, too; so sweet: “What is a home if you don’t have to protect and nurture it? What is marriage if the repetition of the mundane can’t strengthen your appreciation for your spouse?”