For years, Christian Cooper has studied the habits of Kirtland’s warblers, Swainson’s thrushes, Acadian flycatchers and the other birds he has spent countless hours searching for or observing.
While Cooper, a resident of Manhattan, has watched birds all over the world, one of his most frequent haunts is his beloved Central Park, where more than 200 species — including, loons, egrets, falcons and owls — live or stop by during migratory flights.
He is perhaps best known for his encounter there two years ago with a woman who called the police and falsely claimed that he was threatening her after Cooper asked that she keep her dog on a leash.
Now, he is about to once again be in the public eye — this time on his own television show.
National Geographic last week announced a new series featuring Cooper, called “Extraordinary Birder,” that is expected to run on one of National Geographic’s channels or on Disney+. A premiere date has not been released.
“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,” National Geographic said in its announcement, “he does whatever it takes to learn about these extraordinary feathered creatures and show us the remarkable world in the sky above.”
Cooper said that he first heard from National Geographic about the possibility of a show about a year and a half ago — “I was all in,” he said. The six planned episodes will feature Cooper birding in deserts, cities, rainforests and the rural South.
“I love spreading the gospel of birding,” he said recently, adding that he was looking forward to encouraging more people “to stop and watch and listen and really start appreciating the absolutely spectacular creatures that we have among us.”
Cooper, 59, has been a semipublic figure in various ways for decades. He served on the board of directors of GLAAD, formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. While an editor for Marvel Comics, he was credited with creating one of the first gay characters in the Star Trek comic universe.
The confrontation in Central Park in 2020 thrust him into the public eye in a new way. Cooper took out his phone and began recording during a disagreement with the woman he encountered there, Amy Cooper. The video showed Amy Cooper, who is not related to Christian Cooper, making a 911 call and saying to him: “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”
After Christian Cooper’s sister posted the video to Twitter, it was viewed tens of millions of times. In the resulting furor, Amy Cooper lost her job with the investment firm Franklin Templeton and was charged by the Manhattan district attorney’s office with filing a false police report. Amy Cooper sued Franklin Templeton in Federal District Court in Manhattan, saying the company defamed and discriminated against her. Franklin Templeton has asked that the suit be dismissed.
Christian Cooper emerged as a thoughtful, measured voice. He spoke publicly about what he called the “deep vein of racial bias” that runs through society, and he said there was no excuse for the racism inherent in Amy Cooper making a false allegation against him.
But he also distanced himself from the public pillorying of Amy Cooper and declined to cooperate with prosecutors, who ended up asking a judge to dismiss the case against her after she completed a therapeutic program that included instruction about racial biases.
Cooper has loved birds since growing up on Long Island and being struck at the age of 10 by the sight of red-winged blackbirds. He still listens for birdsong, wherever he is.
“It adds another dimension to just being on the street,” he said. “It adds another dimension to how you exist in the world.”
While making “Extraordinary Birder,” Cooper said, he added to his life’s list, glimpsing burrowing owls for the first time. “They are actually quite adorable,” he said.
Cooper still goes regularly to Central Park, especially this time of year — he’s usually there around daybreak. Last week, he had been excited to see a Tennessee warbler, a difficult-to-spot bird with “a really distinctive, urgent cry” that he said sounds in part like “a machine gun.”
“The second you hear that,” he said, “it’s like, oh boy, there’s a Tennessee around.”