By Holly Dutton
Miron Properties agent William MacLeod doesn’t want to be known as “The Pigeon Guy.”
“Insert everyone rolling their eyes right now going ‘oh the crazy pigeon guy,’” joked MacLeod in an interview with Real Estate Weekly at his Greenwich Village office.
But to many people in Washington Square Park, he is “The Pigeon Guy” – but he’s not the only one. Pigeon guys Paul and Larry are constant figures at the park.
MacLeod comes to visit his six pigeons at the park pretty often, to the delight and amusement of onlookers.
“I absolutely enjoy the shock value when people see me walking by them in a really, really nice suit with a pigeon on my shoulder,” he said. “People normally think, ‘Oh, nutty pigeon people.’ In the research I’ve done, pigeons have been domesticated longer than cats.”
Growing up, MacLeod always had “a strange thing with animals.”
“As a kid growing up in Stuy Town, I’d be sitting on a bench and squirrels would come sit next to me,” he said.
An animal lover, he always loved birds but knew at a young age he wasn’t prepared for the responsibility of owning one.
“By the time I was old enough to have a bird, I was too old,” he said. “Birds live for 80 years.”
More than five years ago, during a stroll through Washington Square Park, that all changed.
“I was walking by the arch when I heard this incredibly annoying sound,” MacLeod recalled. “I look over and see these featherless, tiny, ugly things with wings.”
Hesitant at first, since he’d always been told not to touch baby birds, he just watched them for a while.
But as time went by and people and dogs came closer and closer to stepping on them, he decided to take them home.
After doing research online, he discovered what he had just rescued.
“All of a sudden I realize, ‘Oh sh–, I have pigeons.’ I am now responsible for the one thing every New Yorker hates.”
But as he raised and hand fed them, naming them Jocko and Jicky, and watched them grow bigger and bigger, he fell in love with them.
“The more research I did the more amazed I was with them,” he said.
He discovered the 10,000- year history of humans breeding pigeons and racing pigeons.
“Pretty much every war humans have fought, pigeons are responsible for the winning side, delivering messages from behind enemy lines,” said MacLeod.
“The United States Army still has a corps of pigeoneers, guys they will send behind enemy lines with pigeons. They will fly to the coop it comes from with a message tied to its leg. It’s the only unhackable source in warfare information.”
Once they were full-grown, MacLeod realized his birds were meant to fly, and he re-released them into Washington Square Park.
Because he raised them, they imprinted to him, and at first kept following him home. They show up at his place in Manhattan every so often.
From the original two, MacLeod now has six pigeons that he calls his own, which all live around Washington Square Park.
Jicky had two babies over the years, one of which imprinted to him, and he rescued two others in the park that he found sick or injured.
On a stroll through Washington Square Park, all six of MacLeod’s birds fly down and perch on his shoulders and arms, and he greets them all by name.
“If they weren’t so frowned upon, they’re actually the best New York City pet,” he said.
A native New Yorker, MacLeod grew up in Stuy Town and Turtle Bay, and went on to study music composition and theory at Shenandoah College in Virginia.
He has a small place in Manhattan but mostly lives at his home in Huntington, Long Island.
In 1990, finding himself back in Manhattan after college, MacLeod answered an ad in the New York Times for a commercial real estate firm that needed canvassers.
“It was right when computer systems were starting to hit everywhere,” he said. His boss, Kenneth D. Laub, wanted to see if a person going into a building and figuring out what companies were on what floors and how big their square footage was would be more cost effective than using the new computerized systems.
After two weeks, 14 of the 15 people Laub hired had quit. MacLeod was the only one left.
He stayed for several months before deciding that though he wasn’t fond of the commercial side, he “fell in love” with real estate.
MacLeod got his license and starting working as an agent in 1991 for Thompson Kane.
He credited the management there for helping lay his foundation in residential real estate.
“They taught me some really good habits in terms of dealing with clients,” said MacLeod. “Speaking with everyone always, not really pushing myself on anyone but always letting people know that I work in real estate, because everyone in New York is potentially a client at some point. They are either moving into the city, out of the city, into a bigger apartment or into a smaller apartment.”
He then went on to work for a few other small boutique firms where he picked up more skills about keeping good habits and how to deal with the stresses of real estate.
“You’ll have brilliant months where you’ll make ridiculous amounts of money and think ‘Oh my god, this is the easiest thing on the face of the planet,’ and then two months later you’re not going to make anything and be screaming at everybody,” said MacLeod.
After being in the business for more than 15 years, MacLeod left the industry and worked as a commercial photographer out of a studio in the garment district.
For two and a half years, he photographed fabric and clothing for catalog, internet and print, an experience he enjoyed but ended after the financial collapse in 2008 left him with few clients.
He has been back in real estate ever since.
“One thing I learned early on in my career was that real estate is not a sales business,” said MacLeod. “I’m not a salesperson. The department of state requires me to say I’m a licensed real estate salesperson, but I don’t like the word salesperson because at the end of the day you cannot convince someone to rent or buy something they don’t want. End of story.”
MacLeod would rather classify himself as being a consultant adept at customer service.
“My philosophy has always been that finding a place to live in Manhattan is an incredibly ridiculously stressful thing to do, and it’s my job to make it as easy as possible and relieve that stress,” he said. “And I won’t show you something that you can’t afford and that the landlord will reject you.”
“If I could just get away with being called a real estate consultant I’d be very happy.”
In his spare time, he works with animal rescue groups and composes music with friends.
Most recently, he moved from BOND to Miron Properties.
As for the future, MacLeod hopes to work on a ground-up development project.
“I’d like to be able to, from start to finish, work with someone who has a dream, be it an abandoned building or empty lot, see it from start to finish,” he said. “That would be really cool to walk by every couple days and say ‘Wow, I helped, I assisted in something like that.’”
He added that he’d like to see more affordable housing built in the city as well.
“I’ve watched the city change over my lifetime and it’s amazing,” he said. “And there’s changes still to come I really want to be a part of. As much as I love the bazillionaire high-rise units, I’d like to see something really beautiful and affordable.”