Like many visitors to Central Park, the author Jonathan Franzen thought for years that only gray pigeons and brown sparrows could be seen in the man-made space at the center of Manhattan. It wasn’t until the day he went deeper into the Ramble with birder friends that he saw feathers with bright yellows, blues and blacks flitting from branch to branch.
“It was like the trees were hung with ornaments,” Mr. Franzen says in the documentary “Birders: The Central Park Effect,” making its theatrical debut at Cinema Village this Friday.
Starr Saphir, who has led bird tours in the park for nearly 30 years (once, hilariously, including Conan O’Brien) and who has terminal cancer, speaks in the film about how “looking at birds takes you out of yourself, into the real world.”
“Any one person is such a minute part of the world,” she adds, “but you go out and look at some of the natural world and it puts things into perspective.”
The film follows a cast of regulars in the park, including a man who halts all social activity from April 15 to Memorial Day during spring migration; a fashion-averse teenage girl; and a group of four men resembling a latter incarnation of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young who joke that they tire of seeing one another rather than an ordinary red cardinal.
Also starring in the film: the prothonotary warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, olive-sided flycatcher, Eastern screech owl and dozens of other birds.
“Birders: The Central Park Effect” was produced and directed by Jeffrey Kimball, who lives a block from the park. It will play at Cinema Village from Jan. 18 to 24.