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Courtesy Music Box Films

AARP members can watch 'Birders' in its entirety through December 15, 2021. Video run time is 1 hour.

    

Beautiful Documentary 'Birders: The Central Park Effect' Will Inspire Your Birding Hobby

A year after the initial pandemic lockdown, birdwatching across the country is still going strong

Quarantining during the pandemic, for many of us, meant long days inside our homes. With little to no external social interaction, we looked elsewhere — our backyards, our parks — and discovered cooing doves, chirping sparrows and burbling swallows. Of the nearly 45 million reported birders in the U.S., roughly 81 percent of them participated in birding in their own backyards.

This unprecedented slowdown of human activity across the globe due to the pandemic is referred to as an “anthropause” by scientists. During this time in the U.S., people took to the great outdoors to quietly observe America’s roughly 1,000 species of birds. As pandemic birding soared, so did the public’s interest in birdwatching organizations and sales of birding supplies such as seed, birdhouses, field guides and binoculars.

Tahira Mohyuddin, a Nashville, Tennessee–based birding enthusiast and volunteer birding tour guide at Mill Creek Park, has noticed an uptick in birding in her area: “Although tours were paused for quite some time, participation in backyard birding among the general population rose within the last year, as more people were forced to isolate and stay home due to the pandemic.”

The benefits of birding are myriad; it’s also one of the most convenient forms of wildlife watching, because birds are everywhere.

“Birdwatching, even from within your own home or yard, can help reduce stress and anxiety by promoting mindfulness, and it can also provide motivation for getting movement and fresh air,” says Mohyuddin. “Additionally, birdwatching can help one stay mentally active, as memorizing the names, appearances and calls of local birds helps stimulate cognitive alertness.”

For Jeffrey Kimball, a New York City-based filmmaker and avid birder, birding has always been a favorite hobby. In 2012, he released the documentary Birders: The Central Park Effect, which celebrates the diverse array of birds that can be seen in Manhattan as well as the New Yorkers who watch them.

“I love being in New York City. I love being in downtown New York City, the theater, the museums ... that street life ... the excitement of it all,” he says. “But I also love being in nature.” He adds that one of the greatest lessons from birding comes from slowing down to enjoy the nature and life around us.

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Although Kimball, now 65, doesn’t like to take credit, he admits that since the documentary aired, he’s witnessed an increase in birding at Central Park. In the past year, birdwatching has also expanded beyond traditionally popular locations. As a former president and board member of New York City Audubon, a bird conservation nonprofit, one of Kimball’s major goals is bringing birding to diverse communities in New York and beyond.

Kimball, who also spent a great deal of time birding near his second home in rural Connecticut with his family during the pandemic, says that backyard birders birthed during the pandemic can take the next step to becoming birding enthusiasts by studying field guides and keeping track of the birds they encounter.

The hobby can be easy, even for those with limited mobility. “Birding does not have to get strenuous,” adds Kimball. He recommends walking a level trail or even birding from your car. He also suggests checking out the Birdability Map, a joint effort of the American Bird Conservancy and Birdability, an organization dedicated to making birding accessible to everyone.

This past summer, the National Audubon Society hosted Black Birders Week to support birdwatching in the Black community — a demographic that has been historically overlooked in conversations on birding and the outdoors. “We actually make a big point of trying to get out to a lot of the underserved parks. ... There’s a lot of little pocket parks, and often they have great birding,” Kimball notes.

Whether you are birding away from home or in your own backyard, there is so much that can be learned from watching birds. In the documentary, veteran birder Chris Cooper lists the seven pleasures of birding:

 

● The beauty of the birds

● The joy of being in a natural setting

● The joy of scientific discovery

● The joy of hunting without bloodshed

● The joy of solving a puzzle

● The joy of collecting and listing birds

● The unicorn effect — when you finally see a bird that you’ve been studying in real life

 

For Kimball, the last one may be the most important. After 10 years of seeing the pileated woodpecker only in field guides, he spied one while on a work-related trip in North Carolina. The feeling of finally seeing “the beautiful red crest,” he says, was truly indescribable.