While birdwatching in June 2020, Christian Cooper wrestled with how to fight the kind of racism that a White woman had recently unleashed upon him.
“She knew that that was a threat she could tap into,” Cooper told a “Good Morning America” interviewer as a crew tagged along during one of his later birding expeditions. He knew it would be hard to conquer such deep-seated prejudice, “but we got to do something because we’re dying —”
Then he heard a familiar trill.
“Ovenbird,” he said, pointing into the depths of Central Park.
The talk about racism was over.
“Enough of that,” he said, walking off camera. “Let’s look at birds!”
Nearly two years later, Cooper is extending that invitation to tens of millions of people. Last week, National Geographic TV announced that Cooper would host “Extraordinary Birder,” a new show where Cooper, a 59-year-old freelance writer and editor, will take viewers “into the wild, wonderful and unpredictable world of birds.”
“Whether braving stormy seas in Alaska for puffins, trekking into rainforests in Puerto Rico for parrots, or scaling a bridge in Manhattan for a peregrine falcon, he does whatever it takes to learn about these extraordinary feathered creatures and show us the remarkable world in the sky above,” the network said.
National Geographic has not announced a premiere date for the show.
On May 25, 2020 — the same day a police officer murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis — Cooper asked Amy Cooper (no relation) to leash her dog as required in the Ramble, a part of Central Park popular with birders.
He recorded the ensuing argument. Hours later, his sister posted the video online. The footage, which has since racked up more than 45 million views, set off a chain of events in which Amy Cooper was pilloried as a racist and another White “Karen” persecuting Black people for doing everyday activities like barbecuing, selling bottled water or swimming at a community pool.
The blowback was swift and fierce. Amy Cooper was fired from her job at investment firm Franklin Templeton. She was charged with filing a false police report after she allegedly doubled down on her 911 call by telling police that Christian Cooper “tried to assault her.” Prosecutors dropped the misdemeanor case in February 2021 once she finished a “restorative justice” counseling program, The Washington Post reported.
Neither National Geographic nor Christian Cooper mentioned anything about Amy Cooper in announcing his new TV show. Instead, they stuck to the birds.
Cooper’s interest in birds started early. When he was about 10, his parents urged him to take a wood shop class in which he opted to build a bird feeder instead of a footstool, The Post reported. On a family road trip from New York to California, he read a book about birds and, once they reached the West Coast, surprised his parents by pointing out a magpie.
He’s still watching for feathers and listening for birdsong a half-century later, whether in Central Park or while walking down the street. “It adds another dimension to just being on the street,” he told the New York Times last week. “It adds another dimension to how you exist in the world.”
In announcing his TV show on Facebook, Cooper made it clear that while he is the host, the birds will be the stars.
“I’m looking forward to putting a spotlight on these amazing creatures and the extraordinary birders who love them and work to protect them!” Cooper said.
He wants to share that love with millions of viewers.
“I love spreading the gospel of birding,” he told the Times, adding that he hopes to push more people “to stop and watch and listen and really start appreciating the absolutely spectacular creatures that we have among us.”