How Christian Cooper, the Central Park Birder, Spends His Sundays

Christian Cooper may be best known as the Black birder whose altercation with a white woman in Central Park in 2020 escalated into a national news story. But he’s also a longtime gay activist and author who previously wrote and edited for Marvel Comics.

This year, he published a memoir, “Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World,” in which a chapter is devoted to the Central Park incident. He also hosts “Extraordinary Birder,” a National Geographic show that premiered in June on Disney+.

Mr. Cooper, 60, lives in the East Village with his partner, John Zaia, 53, a bartender.

No coffee is necessary for Mr. Cooper, who reliably wakes up earlier than his partner, John Zaia.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

WIRED I get up at 5:30 a.m. with no alarm. It’s just when I pop awake. John sleeps later, so I get up and shut the bedroom door. I drink a glass of water. I don’t drink coffee — never have. As soon as I wake up, I’m basically wired.

HOMEGROWN I’m lucky enough that my apartment has its own roof garden. Unless it’s raining, and sometimes even then, I drink my water and then go upstairs and sit in the garden. Nearly all the plants are native plants. There’s a great birch, Virginia creeper, purple coneflowers. I can’t leave out the grasses: There’s switchgrass, which gets to four feet tall and is a natural barrier. It’s native to New York. I’m part of what’s called the Homegrown National Park system. Anybody can join. The idea is to get people to grow native plants in whatever space they have.

BREATHING IN THE GARDEN There is no better time to be up in the rooftop garden than Sunday morning, when the city is cleared out for a little while. I meditate. Not that long, maybe 15 minutes. If I’m lucky, there’s a mourning dove cooing nearby. The mourning dove has a very rhythmic, soothing coo. Sometimes my eyes are open and sometimes they’re closed. I’m emptying my head and breathing, opening myself up. Eventually I break out a speaker and play Renaissance lute music. I want the plants to hear it, too.

LIFT, THEN WOLF Then I’ll go to the gym in my neighborhood. I spend an hour and a half to two hours on a free-weight workout. I like to keep myself in shape. I’m doing OK for an au naturel 60-year-old. Typically I’ll eat six jumbo hard-boiled eggs before I go, for protein, but I only eat one or two of the yolks and ditch the rest. I’ll also have a bowl of oatmeal. When I leave the gym, I’ll go home and wolf down a baked sweet potato and a protein shake.

Veselka, in the East Village, is a favorite brunch spot.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

LOCAL LANDMARKS After that I might make a plan to meet some friends for brunch at Veselka. I’ve been going to Veselka 35 years or more. I like their cheese blintzes with raspberry sauce. Their pierogies are top notch. The other nice thing is it’s Ukrainian, given the current war situation. I make a point of going through Tompkins Square Park on the way. There are a pair of red-tailed hawks that nest in the park, and this time of year it’s the best show on earth: The young have fledged from the nest and they’re full-sized hawks, but they’re still learning and growing up. They’re like awkward, gangly teenagers learning how to hunt right in front of your eyes.

Stopping in Tompkins Square Park to check on a family of red-tailed hawks.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

COOL DOWN Later in the day is sort of free form. Since it’s summer, I might take in a movie, especially if it’s a hot day. I like to duck into an air-conditioned theater. I like sci-fi, fantasy and horror, but basically I’ll see any movie. I love to lose myself in somebody else’s reality for a couple of hours — just go sit in the dark and eat popcorn.

TESTOSTERONE HIGH There’s a strong possibility I’ll go to the Eagle after that. It’s a gay leather and Levi’s bar, and on Sundays they have a rooftop they open up where they do a beer blast. I don’t drink beer at all, but they serve liquor, too, so I’ll have a cool, refreshing vodka tonic with lime. I go for the congregation of men. It’s almost always exclusively men, so you can get a heady high on the testosterone. Everybody’s up there schmoozing.

A SLICE AND A SIGHTING I’ll go home for dinner. I’ll cook something or maybe pick up takeout. I like Gruppo in my neighborhood for the thin-crust pizza. It goes down easy, so you don’t feel bloated after eating three slices. John and I will probably eat the pizza — the meat lover’s, drenched in sausage — in the rooftop garden. We’ll also be looking for American kestrels. There’s a pair of them that always nest in the vicinity. Sometimes they’re perched on a high wire where we can get a good look at them. We’re just chilling.

CHECKED OUT We try to watch a show on Sunday nights, but because I start to drift off at 9 p.m., there’s mixed results on that. Now we’re rewatching “Dark Shadows” from the 1960s. The camp value is off the charts. By about 10 or 10:30 p.m., the war to stay awake has been lost. But before I go to bed, I’ll check out the website Joe.My.God. It’s basically a news blog from a very progressive, gay perspective. I check it all day, every three or four hours, but I like to check it before I go to bed to make sure I haven’t missed anything.

Sunday Routine readers can follow Christian Cooper on Instagram at @christiancooperbirder.

Back to top button