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7 Quick Questions for Christian Cooper

National Geographic debuts new show, ‘Extraordinary Birder with Christian Cooper’

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JSquared Photography/Contour by Getty Images

Christian Cooper, 60, was bird-watching in Central Park in 2020 when a woman called the police and accused him of harassment. The interaction prompted a national dialogue about false accusations made against Black people in our country. An avid birder, Cooper has now been tapped to host the National Geographic series Extraordinary Birder with Christian Cooper and has a new book, Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World. He shares with AARP his prized travel possession, desired superpower and why he thinks birding is perfect for all ages.

Why do you think people tend to become more enamored with birds as they age?

No matter what your situation, as you age, you can bird. In fact, one of my closest friends in birding is a guy named Claude Bloch. His family fled the Nazis as they occupied France. He just turned 94. You may have some diminished capacity, but you can still get out there and see the birds. Or the birds can come to you through backyard bird feeding. You can watch them from your window. Even if you lose your eyesight, you can still be a birder. In Puerto Rico, we met a birder who was blind … [but] his skills have been specifically repurposed by the people managing a forest. … They bring this blind birder in, and he uses his ability to identify birds by sound.

spinner image christian cooper standing amongst plants and shrubs; words extraordinary birder with christian cooper on his right
Cooper hosts the National Geographic series “Extraordinary Birder with Christian Cooper.”
National Geographic for Disney

Do you have a favorite bird?

My favorite bird, certainly my favorite warbler, is the blackburnian warbler. Now, warblers are very small, very active. I like to think of them as butterflies with personality. They come in an incredible variety of patterns and they sing a variety of songs. … His voice slides impossibly high. It’s just, it’s an incredible bird. I can’t get enough of it.

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You’ve traveled quite a bit and observed birds in a variety of settings. Have you had any birding accidents?

Yes, when I was in college. I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts birding in Mount Auburn Cemetery, which is a very famous spot for birding. People always think it sounds odd to bird in a cemetery, but they’re actually frequently good birding spots because they’ve got so much beautiful green space. I was on top of this mausoleum set into a hill, trying to get a good angle on a bird I was trying to see, and I’m, like, edging over to the side just a little further to get a better view, and all of a sudden I put my foot out to the right a little further and there’s nothing left underneath it, and I go hurtling down about six to eight feet onto the ground. All these other birders came running over and shouting “[so and so] is a doctor.” I’m like, “I’m fine, I’m fine. The only thing bruised is my self-esteem.”

You’re about to hit the road for another birding trip. What’s the most important thing in your suitcase?

My binoculars. This particular pair — my prize pair — was a 50th birthday gift from my dad [who has since died]. I have never bought a pair of binoculars in my entire life. All the binoculars I’ve ever had were either gifts or hand-me-downs. They’re a pair of Swarovskis, which people who are unfamiliar with binoculars think, “What are they, blinged out or something?” But no, Swarovskis are, besides the bling, well-known for making crystal-clear optics. They’re top of the line. They're super expensive. I couldn’t even imagine buying them for myself. It’s a priceless gift, really. They’re really special to me.

spinner image christian cooper wearing binoculars around neck, surrounded by trees, bird on arm
“Extraordinary Birder with Christian Cooper" showcases the wild and unpredictable world of birds.
National Geographic for Disney

Do you have any other obsessions besides birding?

Working out. I'm 60 years old, but I still hit the iron to do some free weight training with great regularity. It helps keep me young.

You previously worked as a writer and editor for Marvel Comics. What’s your ideal superpower?

When I was really, really young, the superpower I always wanted was to be able to transform myself into any animal at will. Of course, most of those were birds. … I would love to be able to transform myself into an eagle. If you’ve ever seen an eagle soar effortlessly — and they can go to incredible heights — it looks like they never have to flap their wings. It’s so remarkable. And imagining the perspective they have from up there, looking down on the earth. They’ve got this incredibly broad perspective, but then they’ve also got remarkably keen eyesight, so they can pick out very specific things at the same time. Being able to just float on the air and not be limited at all. I always try to imagine every once in a while what it would be like to be an eagle.

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And now that you’re older, do you have a different superpower in mind?

It’s way too complicated to explain, really, but it would be some combination of telekinesis and clairvoyance. … That’s the short version. The ability to move objects with my mind at will, but also to see things at a distance, remotely. Like, be able to peek in on what’s going on in Paris, in a café, while I’m sitting here in New York. That’s the power of my mind. 

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