HBO doc 'Birders' shines a light on NYC birding
New York City is an unlikely birding paradise.
In fact, about 262 species of birds -- some of them very rare -- have been seen in Central Park since 2000 and approximately 188 species visit annually.
And while it seems like a passionate "birder" would forego the concrete jungle for unspoiled nature elsewhere, there's a robust, vibrant community of bird-watching aficionados right here in NYC."It's definitely a community," says birder and Manhattan resident Chris Cooper, 49. "What's great about the Central Park community is that no one cares who or what you are. There are people there who I've seen for years who I know on a first name or first name and last name basis. They have no idea what I do for a living. I have no idea what they do for a living. And no one cares. It's all about the birds."
The park is a magnet for avian enthusiasts because of what's known as the Central Park Effect, a phenomenon explored in the HBO documentary "Birders: The Central Park Effect," premiering at 9 p.m. tonight.
In addition to boasting a healthy year-round population, the park -- located on what's known as the Atlantic Flyway -- has become a major stopover for birds during the spring and fall migration seasons.
"Hundreds of years ago before it was settled and there were of course far fewer people here, birds that were migrating up the coast in the spring or down the coast in the fall could stop anywhere," says longtime bird walk guide Starr Saphir, 72, of Inwood. "But with more and more buildings they can't, so they are funneled into these urban oases that are city parks and with time Central Park has become more and more important."
Within the park, the best places to seek them out include the Ramble, between 72nd and 81st streets, and north of the 97th Street transverse, Saphir says, because those areas boast the most diverse habitats. If you're unsure where to look, you could sign up for one of the bird walks offered by Saphir, other individuals or organizations such as the American Museum of Natural History.
Still, you don't have to limit your NYC birding experience to Central Park. Prospect Park and, especially, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge offer their own robust populations and unique experiences.
The abundant birding opportunities can be directly attributed to the city's decades-long effort to "restore and improve" its park system, according to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.
For New Yorkers who spend most of their days surrounded by concrete, glass and steel, birding in the park offers a welcome respite, offering what Cooper calls an "immense" improvement in his quality of life. Birding, he says, "totally changes your outlook."
Birding in NYC, then, is not just a hobby, it's an obsession.
"It's not the kind of thing that people who get involved in it do sometimes," says birder Chuck McAlexander, 61, of Manhattan. "It becomes a way of seeing the world. It's kind of like, 'Once you put your toe in the water, you want to get wet.'"