Bird Fans Flock Together in ‘Birders: The Central Park Effect’

The watching of Winged Migration segued into the watching of another documentary about birds, but this time from a different perspective.

Jeffrey Kimball’s Birders: The Central Park Effect (2012) tells the stories of people who flock (sorry, had to) to Central Park each year to check out the birds there. During migrations in particular, the park plays host to about 25 percent of all the known birds in the United States and Canada. Birders, as these enthusiasts are called, come armed with binoculars. They walk carefully through the park, listening for calls and watching for movement in hopes of seeing a new bird or an old favorite.

Interviewees attempt to explain why people become so intrigued with birding, as the documentary casts us viewers as doubters of why watching birds is so fascinating. The ethusiastic Chris Cooper describes birding as a “treasure hunt.” Sometimes the interviews deepen this doubt, however. Author Jonathan Franzen, probably the most recognizable name in the film, claims, “There’s no way to look cool.”

For other interviewees birding has a deeper meaning. Starr Saphir has been leading people on walks through the park for 30 years, and she keeps journals of all the birds she has seen during her lifetime. These journals hold lists of sightings, and the lists represent a collection for her. She finds solace in those lists as she lives with a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Kimball incorporates multiple shots of birds throughout the documentary and identifies a few. A seasonal structure and an infrequent voiceover keep this documentary moving. Despite the weight of Saphir’s diagnosis (she passed away in early 2013), Birders offers a light-hearted look at a very passionate group of people.

And just a side note: I still find it fascinating that people think of nature as contained in a park when nature is our host on this world and we are her tenants.

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