Birders: The Central Park Effect | Magic in the Middle of Manhattan

Birders: The Central Park Effect

In spring 2001, when my  husband and I bought our rural home, I felt isolated, like I was living in the middle of nowhere. Until a flock of honking Canadian geese descended on our pond, and then I knew I was somewhere. The birds told me so.

Even for non-birders like me, Birders: The Central Park Effect conveys the little bit of magic that inspires people of all ages and from all walks of life to explore Manhattan’s Central Park in search of Wood Thrushes, Indigo Buntings, Cedar Waxwings, and more than 275 species of birds. Each year, hundreds of New Yorkers and visitors pass through the park’s 835 acres of lawns, woodlands, and waterways, looking upward through binoculars to observe the countless migratory birds whose Atlantic route includes a layover in New York.

The cast of Birders features plenty of fine feathered friends like the Brown Thrasher, American Robin, Common Loon, and Red-Tailed Hawk. It also includes the people who watch them, such as 73-year-old Starr Saphir, who guided Central Park birding tours for decades until she died early this year, leaving stacks of notebooks that document more than 2,500 sightings.

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Birders: The Central Park Effect

Bird enthusiasts report that in spite of it being an un-cool hobby, birding is a nourishing activity that connects them with nature, develops peripheral vision, and cultivates the ability to watch and listen. And veteran birders have a sharpened sense for spotting birds, identifying species and gender (males are more colorful), and for recognizing them by their songs and habits. 

Writer-director Jeffrey Kimball captures the stillness required in observing jays, warblers, and the like, just a few steps away from the noisy urban streets. This peaceful film exudes the quietness and patience that overtakes the birder, like a kind of yoga practice that balances the din of city life with a sense of ease. And by the time the film is over, that same calmness that settles over the birdwatcher surrounds the viewer. Unlike movies fueled by action and suspense, Birders is a refreshing antidote to the daily tension that comes from reading the news headlines or maintaining an overscheduled routine. And if watching the film has a soothing effect, maybe birdwatching is a sensible Rx for a high-speed world that stares at computer monitors. Don’t feel pressured to get out there with your binoculars, just enjoy the show. This short, sweet, and poignant documentary is for everyone.  B+