Not Birds of a Feather: Birders

 DATELINE: Central Park 

 Cooper, Starr with director Kimball.

 

If you want to escape viruses and racial problems, you may go to Central Park in New York City where over 200 varieties of birds come to spend time each year. The film is from 2012 and is called Birders: the Central Park Effect..

Seasonal birders are bird-watchers who come in spring or fall to see the most friendly and unusual birds ever to congregate in a small urban space.

One of the most charming of people in this documentary is Chris Cooper, a gay African American man who calls the art of birders “a treasure hunt,” and explains he disappears for a month of delightful fun every spring. He compares birding to stamp collecting.

You may recall the incident (not in the movie) about the white woman (clearly a racist who could never apologize with a name, only calling her victim “that man”) who called police on Cooper who complained her dog was not on a leash and was frightening the birds. Her attack on Cooper went viral.

That shows how even birdwatching has become dangerous in our racially charged world lately.

What a shame about the racist attack on Cooper, but it draws attention to how real the problem is—even when we try to escape the horrors of our society lately.

Cooper is articulate, intelligent, and a marvelous birder to introduce the artful hobby that entails The Central Park Effect on birds.

Other birders in the film include an old woman named Starr Saphir who charged a few dollars to lead people on watching tours. She usually finds a dozen birds, identify them, and give their history. She kept records for each year for decades before her passing in 2013.

Another character in the story compares birders to those seeking movie stars. The stars are not pigeons or geese, but rare birds you may know from books and pictures. To see one in person is like meeting a movie star, according to Jonathan Franzen.

The film now resonates in ways never intended, but it remains a delightful study of human nature in natural setting. If there is bad news, the number of birds is declining everywhere.