As the sky brightened Monday morning, the birds began to gather, their silhouettes softening the apex of a steeply pitched slate roof.
Eyes on the glass-and-metal booth at the edge of the Center City Parking Lot across the street, they waited.
Shortly before 7:30 a.m., Jeff Martin arrived, plastic grocery bag in hand. He unlocked the parking booth and brought out a jar of peanuts.
He shook the jar, eyes to the sky. The birds fluttered to his feet.
“There’s Brownie. That’s my favorite. He’s a very rare one,” the Niskayuna resident said, pointing out a brown-and-white pigeon, a standout among his gray-hued companions.
A two-year employee of LAZ Parking, Martin’s been feeding the birds from his parking lot post for about six months now. He started with the sparrows, tossing sunflower seeds into the nearby landscaping. About three months ago, he began to feed the pigeons.
The sparrows are still skittish, preferring to peck seed from the ground, but Martin has charmed the pigeons. They land on his head, shoulders and arms, eager to pluck peanuts from his outstretched hands.
He said his aim is to bring some life to the “concrete jungle” where he works.
As commuters drove into the lot Monday morning, the birds fluttered away for a moment, then returned. Martin alternated between handing out pink parking slips and peanuts.
He said he spends about $25 a week on feed, faithfully serving the birds breakfast each morning when he gets to work.
Neighbors and parking lot patrons have taken notice of his avian following. A lady down the street now brings Martin bread to feed to the birds and a YMCA member who parks in the lot has contributed birdseed.
Spectators show up to take pictures.
“The people love it,” Martin said. “Little kids come and they feed them too.”
He’s gotten to know many of the pigeons in the flock that frequents the lot on Franklin Street. One has a white crown; one has just one toe on its left foot, he pointed out.
“That’s Batman right there,” he said, motioning to a dark-colored pigeon eagerly pecking seed from his hand. “He looks just like Batman’s uniform. He has red eyes. He’ll sit here all day. He’s my buddy.”
Surrounded by pavement just beginning to soak up the morning sun, Martin sat in his tiny booth, its doors open wide, his hands full of peanuts, birds perched contentedly on his arms.
“This is my little piece of heaven,” he said.