“Extraordinary Birder with Christian Cooper” took flight on National Geographic TV this past weekend. If his name sounds familiar, it might be because of the infamous interaction he had with Amy Cooper (no relation) and her off-leash dog in Central Park’s Ramble in May 2020, which catapulted him to the national arena. (Full disclosure: I was introduced to Chris one month before the “incident,” by a friend of his who noticed how passionate I also was about the dog off-leash issue.) Impressively, Chris remained calm and cool during the encounter with Amy in the park—and during the frenzy of national media attention that ensued. In addition to this new TV series, Random House recently published his memoir, “Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World”, which is marvelous.
Chris is an “ear birder,” gifted at identifying birds by their call and then looking for them, which is why he is a “birder” rather than a “birdwatcher.” He’s well-known in the Central Park birding world; now anyone can go birding with him. In the show’s first season, over the course of six episodes, Chris travels to Puerto Rico, Palm Springs, Washington, DC, Hawaii, and Alabama, and also hosts an episode in New York City.
In Puerto Rico, he covers the entire island in one breathtaking hour, beginning and ending with a recovery program for the endangered Iguaca, an endemic green parrot that is dangerously close to extinction. Viewers can join Chris as he marvels at another endemic species, the colorful Puerto Rican Tody, a bright green bird with an oversized head and lots of personality, and hikes in El Yunque National Forest to glimpse a well-hidden Black Swift nest hidden behind a waterfall high in the rain forest. He also spends some time with friendly Brown Pelicans off-shore, and gazing up at elegant White-Tailed Tropicbirds, which have an unusually long tail that streams behind them in flight. A native New Yorker, Chris is very familiar with our local Rock Pigeons, so was understandably intrigued by the Scaly-naped variety that is equally common in Puerto Rico.
Not surprisingly, the NYC episode takes Chris back to the site of the dog off-leash incident in Tupelo Meadow, but he graciously dodges discussing it, preferring to continue to celebrate birding in Central Park, which has a bird population that triples during spring and fall migration each year from 60 year-round species. He visits Staten Island’s Fresh Kills landfill to help tag Grasshopper and Savanah Sparrows, and braves a vertiginous climb to tag four new Peregrine Falcon chicks in a nest high atop the George Washington Bridge. He also checks in with the Wild Bird Fund, a not-for-profit wildlife rescue/rehab organization located on the Upper West Side, founded in 2001 by Rita McMahon, which is devoted to helping sick, injured and orphaned wildlife and returning them to the wilds of the city. Chris spends some time with adorable, endangered nesting Piping Plovers on Long Island. One of the most intriguing locations for the New York episode, however, was the seven-acre green roof on top of the Jacob Javitz Convention Center, which serves as a breeding ground for Herring Gulls. Chris is a notably good sport when one of them nips him on the chin!
If birding were a country, Chris would surely be appointed ambassador. His passion could inspire the most devoted couch-potato to pick up a pair of binoculars and head outside. His joy and excitement are infectious and the show easily illustrates his approach to life, “Better Living Through Birding.”
Extraordinary Birder airs weekly beginning Saturday June 17 at 10 p.m. on National Geographic TV and the entire series is available on Disney+ beginning June 21.