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Duke Riley Sending Pigeons Wearing LED Bands to Light Up Night Sky

 Thousands of pigeons will take to the sky each weekend for a month at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as part of the Fly by Night public art project by artist Duke Riley.
Thousands of pigeons will take to the sky each weekend for a month at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as part of the Fly by Night public art project by artist Duke Riley.
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Will Star Courtesy of Creative Time

BROOKLYN NAVY YARD — It’s time to shine for a very large flock of New York pigeons.

Thousands of the ubiquitous urban birds, outfitted with their own small LED lights, will take to the night sky above the Brooklyn Navy Yard each weekend between May 7 and June 12 as part of artist Duke Riley’s Fly by Night project, put on by public arts organization Creative Time.

For 43-year-old Riley, who’s been raising pigeons since he was in his early 20s, the project has been a dream come true.

“It’s combining all of my main interests and wildest dreams into one project,” Riley said.

Riley, a Boston native and Pratt alum, said the performance will give the illusion of thousands of shooting stars flying over Brooklyn. 

“It looks almost like constellations moving around really quickly in the sky,” Riley said. 

Some of the birds, many of which are from Riley’s own flock, will fly close to the ground while others will fly up high into the clouds. Some will fly in large loops around the Navy Yard and others may go as far as crossing the East River into the Lower East Side.

A variety of pigeons make up the Fly by Night flock, including Homers and Flights, Rollers and Tumblers (known for doing flips and somersaults in the air), Russian High Flyers and the Syrian Damascene.

The pigeons will be released just before sunset so the audience can see all the variations and color, but as the sky darkens, the birds will be illuminated by the LED lights and the audience will be able to focus on their entrancing flight patterns.

“I think the most important thing is for people to really spend a tranquil moment when they’re not looking at their phones and actually just focus on the amazing nature that just exists around them every day in the city they often don’t pay attention to,” Riley said.

One of the most important parts of the project for Riley was creating a stage for audience members to reconsider their feelings toward the birds, which are often misunderstood. 

Pigeons have had a long history in New York, where pigeon coops once filled rooftops across the city. 

The U.S. Navy’s largest pigeon coop was once housed in the city at the Navy Yard’s own Cob Dock, a now-extinct island that sat at the center of Wallabout Bay, for pigeons that carried important military messages before the days of radio communication.

“The world that we live in today would not be what it is without pigeons and the influence they’ve had on us,” Riley said.

“I”m looking forward to seeing how the audience reacts and providing them with some sort of peak into this world that I care very deeply about.”

Fly by Night runs every night on weekends from May 7 to June 12. Admission is free with RSVP. To reserve your spot, click here.