By Sophia Caltagirone
The Birdman strolled into Fort Greene Park with two black African grey parrots on his shoulders. He walked along a path and sat his birds down on a rock.
As jazz music played, he sat down on a nearby park bench and watched his birds from afar. A couple walked by him with their dog. His eyes widened and he swiftly pulled out a bag of dog treats. He bent down and fed each dog a treat while chatting with the owners.
“That’s just an example. Everybody knows me, and all the dogs in the park, they all love me,” he said. Another dog began to make its way over.
David Reyes, the Birdman, is Puerto Rican born in the South Bronx and has been living off of Myrtle Avenue in Fort Greene for the majority of his life. He retired from National Grid in 2020. Reyes has brought his birds to the park for the past 30 years.
The birds and Reyes's presence is a free experience that served as an attraction for families with kids; he played a part in bringing people to the area, he made connections with other bird owners, and his comradeship to the dogs in the park allowed for small connections to be made.
Reyes’s birds, Chauncey Gardner, 35, and Spencer Gardner, 16, are black African grey parrots that he had raised since they were in an egg. They both have a 300-word vocabulary and cognitive skills.
“The birds tell me when they want to go to the park. They understand what the park is, and they will tell me when they want to go home,” said Reyes.
Sunny Jain made his way down to the rock with his kids and their friends from a group event on the other side of the park.
“He’s super friendly with the kids and giving the kids a great, great fun experience. Which is kind of nice, it's not like after you do it, it's like ‘great, okay you can Venmo me here,’” joked Jain.
His kids and their friends were laughing as Reyes placed a bird on one of their heads. When the bird was closer to the group, some of the younger girls started to gasp and pull themselves away.
As quickly as they pulled away, five-year-old Margot DeMille came sprinting over to the chaos. Alex DeMille, 43, is Margot’s father, lives half a block away, so they come to the park often.
“I first moved to this neighborhood in 2009; it’s always been a wonderful park,” said DeMille as Margot climbed on the rock to see the birds.
Margot tried to feed the birds with the nuts Reyes handed her. The birds, said DeMille, are “a magnet for children.” Reyes then put a bird on Margot’s head. DeMille’s eyes were uneasy, so Reyes quickly reassured him, “Don’t worry, it won’t bite.”
Margot laughed and interrupted Reyes and her father, demanding that he take a picture.
“No, do a video!” said Reyes.
DeMille pulled out his phone and did just that.
“There's a lot of love around here because of the birds; there's a tremendous amount of camaraderie. It’s good for the birds and it's good for people,” said Reyes to DeMille.
“I think this is a beautiful thing that you’re sharing with the park here. I really, really appreciate it,” responded DeMille.
Two little boys ran over when they saw the bird on Margot’s head. Their parents Natalia Sandoval and Alexandre Martin-Rosset began to watch their boys play with Margot, and the birds.
After Reyes asked, Sandoval told him she was Mexican and Martin-Rosset said he was French. Reyes was delighted that different groups of people coming together and his birds could bring happiness to them.
“We are looking to move to Fort Greene. I love the community here. It's as close as you can get to nature in the city. It’s wild for our kids to be able to hang out with these birds,” said Sandoval.
Their boys continued to laugh and play with the birds. One boy ran around the rock with Margot, as the other boy jumped off as one of the birds followed.
“I don't know if Dave realizes, but I'm sure we're going to talk about this for a long time. It’s something that will impact us and it's great with the community,” said Sandoval.
As Sandoval, Martin-Rosset, and their kids began to leave, out-of-towner Andy Swick came up to see the birds. Swick has a black African grey of his own.
“They're amazing because they tend to be one-person birds, but he's taught them to trust other people which is good. I think it makes the kids appreciate the birds. But also, the birds can live to be like 80 years old and so at some point they have to go to somebody else,” said Swick.
Reyes knows that the birds might outlive him. So in his will, the birds go to his family in Florida.
“Certainly anything that sort of disrupts the status-quo is a way to bring different groups together, and conversations that would not have normally happened,” said Fort Greene local Miquela Craytor.
Reyes’s neighborly attitude and compassion allowed for many small connections to be made, which is all he really wants.
“Someone like him is the type of person that makes New York so special,” said Craytor.
Sophia Caltagirone, 19, is a freelance journalist studying at The New School for Journalism + Design and Fashion Communications. Caltagirone interns in the fashion industry, while her studying intergrades her journalistic endeavors.