It is estimated that 46 million Americans are devoted birders, making it the second most popular hobby in the United States. This delightful documentary by Jeffrey Kimball charts one year in the relationship between birders in New York City's Central Park and the beautiful birds they watch with awe and happiness.
More than 275 different types of birds — 1/4th of all species in the U.S. and Canada — have been seen in this patch of green in a metropolis of skyscrapers. Using stunning HD photography, Kimball captures an astonishing number of species from hummingbirds and herons to owls and hawks. It's no wonder that one man describes the birds as "beautiful ornaments that adorn the trees."
Why do men, women, and children come out of apartments, brownstones, and co-ops all year round to witness the antics of feathered beings? Kimball profiles seven birdwatchers as they go on a quest to catch a glimpse of a rare species or just take time away from the pressures and demands of urban living. They each share the name of the first bird that made them go "whoa!"
Chris Cooper disappears from the lives of his friends each year from April 15 through Memorial Day when the city hosts a community of several hundred birders who schedule their lives around migrating birds who make Central Park a stopover in spring and fall. Cooper lists his seven pleasures in birding, including the beauty of the birds, the joy of being in a natural setting, the joy of scientific discovery, and the joy of hunting without bloodshed.
One of the legendary figures in this scene is septuagenarian Starr Saphir who has been giving daily bird tours for 20 years. Her stamina has waned due to terminal breast cancer but her enthusiasm for the birds is still strong. She says that looking at birds takes away her sadness and pain. She shows us dozens of journals containing her daily bird lists.
Anya, a 15 year old, shares her high regard for birds who need to be protected since they are "so alive, active, varied and beautiful." "I don't want them scared," she adds. She literally glows when she talks about birding.
Writer Jonathan Franzen loves his hobby which has become an addiction over time but one which lifts his spirits. Jonathan Rosen is glad that he has the opportunity to watch the birds as they eat, play, clean themselves, and fly away. His gratitude is welcome since the annual Christmas bird count documents that a quarter of all species in Central Park have had a 50% decline.
Bird watching means something different to each of these seven devotees, and filmmaker Jeffrey Kimball has done a remarkable job giving us insights into their passion and pleasure in what we recognize as spiritual practices: questing, paying attention, seeking beauty, and being truly present in the natural setting of Central Park.
Special features on the DVD include: a birdwatching field guide booklet; an extended interview with author Jonathan Franzen; "The Birds of Central Park Video Guide"; and additional interviews with key cast.