New York City is affectionately known as the city of lights, the home of Broadway, and the proud owner of the Statue of Liberty. New York City, specifically Central Park, also hosts a resting station for exotic birds that are en route to their migratory destination. In spring and fall more than 200 species of birds, approximately 25% of all the bird species in the United States and Canada, travel along the Eastern Seaboard. These birds are usually coming from sub tropic areas, like Florida. Some birds even come from as far away as Argentina. They stop in Central Park and pay a visit to dedicated bird watchers who are anxiously awaiting their arrival.
Director Jeffrey Kimball documents this phenomenon in the film, “Birders: The Central Park Effect”. It poignantly acknowledges this ‘hidden piece of nature right in the middle of the city’. Kimball exposes this mystic gathering of migratory birds by observing the birders as they scope Central Park for special sightings of birds like the American Gold Finch, the Red-winged Blackbird and the Louisiana Waterthrush.
Kimball is also attentive to the birders’ lives outside of this hobby. The birders reveal that their passion occupies almost all of their time.Birder Chris Cooper emphasizes his friends’ agitation with the devotion he has towards birding, ” They [my friends] know from experience that from April 15th to Memorial Day, they won’t see me…because I’m birding.” Although birders’ family and friends are left disgruntled by their periodic absences, it is clear that the birders gain pure solace from participating in birding. 15 year old birder Anya Auerbach says she carries her binoculars everywhere, except school. She loves the birds because they are ‘alive, active, beautiful, and varied.’ Starr Saphir, a birder since 1946, makes a living leading bird watching tours through Central Park. She claims that when a bird suddenly appears in front of you, it is ‘like magic’. Jonathan Franzen, who is also a best selling author, describes a birding experience he once encountered,”It’s like the trees were hung with ornaments. It was amazing, seeing this familiar urban park filled with birds like that. It was one of the rare times in an adult’s life where the world seems more magical”. Birders from all around the country come to Central Park to witness this spectacle. However, it does not last forever. By early June, most birds have completed their migratory path and are nesting somewhere up North. The next time migrant birds are frequent in Central Park is in late summer and they will have departed by October’s end. Birds like the robin and the cardinal remain in Central Park year round. Despite seeing these birds constantly, birders claim that their beauty never gets old.
To most city dwellers, the New York City bird population only extends to pigeons and sparrows. It might come as a surprise to them that this hidden treasure exists right in front of their eyes. Some might find it odd that these tropical birds find a suitable habitat amidst the city’s concrete jungle. The diverse and unique array of seasonal birds that flock to Central Park continues to astound birders. Kimball’s documentary, which airs July 16th on HBO, will hopefully bring the birds’ beauty and grace to the attention of park-goers and give them a new appreciation for nature.