Birders: The Central Park Effect

Directed by 

Birders: The Central Park Effect reveals the extraordinary array of wild birds who grace Manhattan's celebrated patch of green and the equally colorful, full-of-attitude New Yorkers who schedule their lives around the rhythms of migration.

Acclaimed author Jonathan Franzen, an idiosyncratic trombone technician, a charming fashion-averse teenager, and a bird-tour leader who's recorded every sighting she's made since the 1940s are among the film's cast of characters. Featuring spectacular wildlife footage capturing the changing seasons, this lyrical documentary transports the viewer to a dazzling world that goes all but unnoticed by the 38 million people who visit America's most famous park each year.

Director Jeffrey Kimball. 60 minutes. Not rated.

SPEAKER: Geoff LeBaron, Christmas Bird Count Director, National Audubon Society

TOPIC: New York City's Central Park and its surprising importance to ornithologists in the field of citizen science.

New York City’s Central Park presents residents and visitors with many fascinating points and counter-points, some obvious and others less so.  Planned and constructed by Frederick Law Olmstead in the mid-1800s, it is a place of rest and respite for humans and (other) wildlife alike.  It is an oasis of nature in the middle of a huge city, and an island of green in the midst of the concrete megalopolis that is New York City.  And as such it holds an important place in both the hobby of birding and in that of the scientific study of ornithology: it helped enable the genesis of the “great granddaddy” of citizen science programs, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count or CBC.

The CBC was started by Frank Chapman, then an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West.  His brainchild proposed in 1900 (in his own publication “Bird-Lore”, now Audubon magazine) was to conserve birds rather than harvest them during the Holiday season; partake in a Christmas Bird Census rather than a competitive bird hunt.  Central Park was one of the 25 locations covered in the first CBC on Christmas Day of 1900, and it has been included in the count every year since then.  The CBC has evolved into one of the two most important tools conservationists and ornithologists have to track the health of bird populations across the continent, and to this day Central Park holds an important slot in the Count.  Birders: The Central Park Effect well captures the passion and intensity of birders in the Park, and illustrates both why and how the CBC has evolved into such an important citizen science activity.