A mystery bird lover dumped a bag of Cheetos on the sidewalk outside the White Plains train station Monday, summoning a flock of nearly two dozen pigeons to a lunchtime feast.
The scene barely would have registered had it occurred at a nearby park, but at the Metro-North station on Ferris Avenue, it's quickly becoming a flashpoint in an ongoing war between man and pigeon.
And, right now, the pigeon is winning.
"It's a big headache," maintenance man Jorge Flores said Monday as he swept Cheetos left on a second-floor staircase into a dustpan. "It's like a festival of pigeons coming in and out."
Signs throughout the station plead with Metro-North riders. "Please don't feed the pigeons," they say.
Wire traps on the third floor of the station lure in hungry pigeons who likely have made their way inside through lobby doors that slide open automatically -- one of the few such doors in the Metro-North system.
And yet passengers continue to feed the birds, either willfully or through outright neglect, by leaving bags of uneaten food on benches and walking away.
And in recent weeks, someone has taken to opening up the cages and freeing the pigeons despite a sign promising that trapped birds will be humanely released in Rockland County.
"Pigeons are being trapped for the health and safety of our customers," reads a sign taped to the wall of a third-floor landing, next to the cages. "These cages are property of the MTA. Tampering with these cages and/or their contents is a punishable offense."
Most of the "flying rats" -- as newsstand owner Gary Waxman calls them with a noticeable lack of affection -- fly through the sliding automatic doors steps away from where Waxman sells newspapers, candy and drinks.
Just the other day, Waxman said, he sold three bags of David's sunflower seeds at $1.70 apiece to a woman who promptly stepped outside the doors and starting tossing them to a welcoming flock of pigeons.
"People feel compelled to feed the pigeons, and yet they wouldn't take out a dollar and leave it for the homeless," Waxman said, shaking his head in disbelief. "They're flying rats. They'll eat anything."
It has become so bad that Metro-North plans to replace the sliding doors with a revolving door that will keep fewer wandering pigeons from making their way inside.
"It's a real headache, a nuisance," said Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Marjorie Anders. "We hate them. Most of our customers hate them. The station manager hates them. They leave their excrement behind. It's slippery. Our customers are tripping and falling."
Well, almost everyone hates them.
"I'm an animal lover, so it doesn't bother me," said Veronica Chanza of White Plains. "They should be outside, but what are you going to do? They don't bother anyone."
Steps away, a robust pigeon was camped out beneath a second-floor pay phone, waiting for food to drop.
"I think the Westchester pigeons are so well-fed, far from emaciated," Chanza said.
Downstairs, a pigeon was standing on the edges of the Reunion Coffee Shop waiting for a morsel of doughnut or muffin that owner Crystal Luciano keeps behind a plastic partition for customers.
Luciano, who lives in the Bronx, was not about to make the pigeon's day. "We've got to chase them out every day so they don't come in," Luciano said.
She's looking forward to the revolving door being installed. "Please, I hope it's soon," she said.
Meanwhile, Flores was making the rounds with his broom, trying to keep up with the food customers left behind.
"This is my day, every day," he said. "We do what we can."