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'They Are The Epitome Of New York': Author Explains Why Pigeons Fit In With Hustle And Bustle Of Big Apple

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- In an urban environment like New York City, one of the few connections with nature is the pigeon.

It's a bird largely ignored, but one man is bringing the beauty of the pigeon into focus. His story is this week's Snapshot New York with CBS2's Steve Overmyer.

Maybe you think pigeons are nothing more than pests. Maybe there's more to the much-maligned bird.

Andrew Garn is photographer who took a closer look at the pigeon and became enamored. In fact, when told by CBS2's Overmyer that not that many people are fond of pigeons, Garn took exception.

"Au contraire! I think for everybody that hates a pigeon in New York, there's a pigeon lover," Garn said. "And I looked at them and I was just totally bedazzled. The feather patterns, the variation of the feathers, the colors of their eyes. It's just incredible. And I was just smitten from that day forward."

NYC pigeon Big DL
A pigeon takes flight (file/credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

For 10 years Garn studied and captured images assembled in a book fittingly called "The New York Pigeon." When the light is right they show off their true colors.

"I didn't know anything about pigeons when I started out. I just thought they were this bird that did well in cities," Garn said.

The fact that you see them everywhere almost makes them invisible. But when you do take a closer look, you see the coloration of their feathers.

"When I started photographing the pigeons, I started looking at them, and I had never really looked at a bird like that close before and I thought, 'Wow, they are beautiful. They're like jewels,'" Garn said.

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It is believed that the Big Apple is home to 7 million pigeons. They live largely on seeds, bread crumbs and other leftovers.

The natural home for a pigeon is a cliff-side ledge. So a perfect alternative is a building, making New York ideal.

"Where they come from they had to evade predators and there's no natural cover," Garn said. "So they had to be able to move like a helicopter.

"They have incredible take-off power. It's a big bird, a one-pound bird, and they can take off in a snap," he added.

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Garn said when a flock of pigeons takes off at the same time, one can see their true power.

In a safe environment pigeons will live 20 years, but life in New York is hard. Most don't last a year.

"They're New Yorkers. They're trying to survive," Garn said. "They're scrappy. They're smart."

NYC pigeons
Pigeons perched on a traffic light, on July 4, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Loic Venance/Getty Images)

So we should all love pigeons because they're as much New Yorkers as we are?

"Absolutely. They are the epitome of New York. They should be national bird of New York. Or the city bird. They absolutely should be.  I'm gunning for that. I'm starting a campaign for that," Garn said.

How about a run for mayor?

"A pigeon platform. I've got the pigeon platform. I think I could get that," Garn said.

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Are pigeons the only animals near and dear to Garn's heart? What about squirrels?

"Squirrels are okay," he said. "They're cute. They're furry, and cute, but they're not like pigeons."

So are people oblivious to nature?

"They really are, and I think they need to open their eyes a little bit," Garn said.

Garn said it might be time for people to see pigeons in a different light, because if they do they might start seeing other things in a different light as well.

"If you open your eyes to one thing you didn't really expect to be interesting, what other things can you open your eyes to?" Garn said.

Half of the proceeds from the sales of his book will go to the Wild Bird Fund to help rehabilitate injured birds.

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