John Neilko’s flock of 250 pigeons lives on the roof of the Polonia Democratic Club in Williamsburg. Neilko started tending pigeons as a child in his native Poland, and when he came here in 1960, it was a common hobby. No more—keeping coops and racing is now seen as a nuisance by neighbors who say it’s dirty and landlords who think a roof full of birds makes a gentrifying neighborhood seem too Old World.
Neilko doesn’t care. He doesn’t even race. For him, the joy comes from watching his birds swoop and dive above the rooftops. The flock needs watching. Every day, Neilko says, he loses at least one to a hungry hawk. He keeps them safe; in return, he says, the pigeons “keep me out of trouble.”