At least one of the protesters’ claims is undeniably true. No one asked 2,000 pigeons if they wanted to have lights strapped to their legs in the name of art.

Nor did anyone ask the birds how they felt about being shooed from their homes at dusk and sent flying up to illuminate the Brooklyn sky.

But whether Duke Riley’s avian-powered performance piece “Fly by Night” constitutes pigeon abuse is a more complicated question.

More than 5,000 people have signed a petition calling for the show, which opened May 7 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, to be closed. At Sunday’s performance, a gaggle of protesters — perhaps several dozen — gathered outside the Navy Yard gates.

Their charges: that the birds are terrified by the flapping plastic flag Mr. Riley waves to keep them flying; that it is unnatural to make pigeons fly at night, when they normally rest; and that between their poor night vision and the distractions of the moving lights, they could become disoriented and crash into the East River.

An artist, Duke Riley, has trained 2,000 pigeons to fly above the Brooklyn Navy Yard with tiny lights attached to their ankles in a performance that will run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through June 12.   An artist, Duke Riley, has trained 2,000 pigeons to fly above the Brooklyn Navy Yard with tiny lights attached to their ankles in a performance that will run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through June 12.CreditCredit…Yousur Al-Hlou

“There’s plenty of ways to create beautiful art without using unwilling participants who are forced to perform,” said Nora Marino, who runs the Animal Cruelty Exposure Fund.

Mr. Riley has kept pigeons most of his adult life, and says the birds are not suffering and that they fly when he waves his trash-bag flag for the same reason a dog gets excited when you pull out your car keys. The birds are not forced to fly, Mr. Riley said — every night, some choose to stay in their coops.

The show’s critics say “Fly by Night” disregards the growing sentiment against performing animals. Ringling Bros. is retiring its circus elephants, SeaWorld its killer whales.

Before “Fly by Night” opened, the nonprofit arts group that organized it, Creative Time, asked the director of the Wild Bird Fund, Rita McMahon, to inspect. The fund, based on the Upper West Side, treats more than 2,000 sick and injured pigeons a year.

“Mixing art and animals is a very risky business,” said Ms. McMahon, who is a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator, “but I was very impressed.” The pigeons were healthy and well fed, their temporary homes beautiful and clean.

“I didn’t see any traumatized pigeons,” she added. “You see them mating, courting, everything, all over the boat. I think that’s a pretty good sign.”

“Fly by Night” runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until June 12, and the protesters say they will be out every night for the rest of the run.

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