A New York based art show featuring 2,000 pigeons with LED lights strapped to their legs has received over 5,000 petitions calling for the show to be shut down.

A show called Fly by Night by artist Duke Riley, on the docks of Brooklyn Navy Yard, was premiered on 5 May, where pigeons dance to their own choreography, flashing lights illuminating the sky at dusk over a Manhattan sea. However, the programme has now received criticism from activists who say it is an abuse of birds, and protesters have gathered at the show site campaigning for avian freedom.

"There are plenty of ways to create beautiful art without using unwilling participants who are forced to perform," Nora Marino from the Animal Cruelty Exposure Fund told the New York Times.

The online petition filed against the show reads: "While it may seem like a good idea at first, if you have any knowledge of pigeons, you understand how much stress this act causes the animals, and even runs the risk of death.

Pigeons are virtually blind in the dark, so they don't fly at all after the sun has set... They can easily injure themselves and other birds. The only thing they want to do at night is go home."

The petition has also noted that the birds get terrified when a flag is waved to shoo them off their coop or when a whistle is blown to mark the start of the event. It said: "most are stressfully flapping their wings just trying to get home... this is inhumane and a poor excuse for 'art'."

However, responding to the comments, Riley told the publication that the birds are not made to fly against their will, as every night some of them choose to stay in their coops.

Directory of the Wild Bird Fund, Rita McMohan, who was called to check the pigeons before the launch of the event has supported Riley and said: "Mixing art and animals is a very risky business but I was very impressed. I didn't see any traumatised pigeons. You see them mating, courting, everything, all over the boat. I think that's a pretty good sign."