Wednesday, October 9, 2019

“Birders,” an Original Netflix Border Documentary

Promotional photo provided by Netflix.
A Hooded Oriole is one of many borderland birds featured in the new Netflix documentary “Birders” (photo by Paul Konrad).

A new Netflix Original Film entitled “Birders” documents fall migration while exploring the concerns of birders and conservationists along both sides of the Rio Grande, and how birds bring people together with a common interest. The US–Mexico border politics is subtle but the birding is real, with a candid look at some Texas birding hotspots and the monumental fall raptor migration near Veracruz, Mexico.

Filmed last fall, the 37-minute documentary takes viewers on a journey that follows a major bird migration route at a time of year when hundreds of species are flying south. The film is filled with many migrating hawks, along with stunning border birds such as the Hooded Oriole, Green Jay, and Tropical Kingbird.

Film director Otilia Padua features birders, birding guides, and monitors from both sides of the border, ranging from southern Texas to Veracruz, Mexico. In one of the scenes, birders from both countries are gathered on a watchtower near Veracruz, with each person peering through binoculars, children and elders alike. A young man rapidly presses a handheld counter, one click for every hawk he sees, but it seems he can’t keep up with the mass of raptors gliding past. The group is witnessing the annual fall spectacle of the “River of Raptors,” during which millions of hawks and other southbound birds funnel through the Veracruz area.

At this point in the film, if only for a moment, the border became an abstraction. “Regardless of geography, socio-economics, and the ways that people are being separated, the birders shared a passion for birds and for protecting the places where birds migrate,” director Padua said. “I really thought it was beautiful to find something that they all had in common.”

One of the people featured in the film is wildlife photographer Richard Moore, who leads viewers through wildlife refuges and private ranches on the Texas side of the border that serve as key migration stopover sites and essential habitat for resident birds. “People are so attracted to birds,” Moore says in the beginning of the film. “For one thing, they’re very visual. But I think what really inspires us most about birds is their freedom, their ability to fly wherever and whenever they want.” In several instances, featured people voice their concerns about the current circumstances at the border, which have limited some birders to a single side of the river.

The documentary’s producer, Elena Fortes, said she hopes the film’s viewers will gain a deeper appreciation for birds and a general awareness of the dangers they face. Noting the border wall’s potential impacts on several important conservation areas and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Fortes says the film encourages viewers to look at the idea of migration from a different angle. “At certain points, you’re not sure if we’re talking about birds or humans,” she noted. “The issue of migration is kind of a natural drive to look for better conditions for your family. That’s something birds do, and something humans will keep doing whether or not you impose restrictions.”

“Some people thought it was political and some thought it wasn’t political enough,” photographer Moore said about the documentary. “To me, I didn’t think it was about the politics. Otilia was just using the voices of people on both sides of the Rio Grande talking about what birds meant to them and what they’re trying to do to improve conditions for birds."

The initial goal of the film was to tell a story about the US–Mexico relationship, but director Otilia Padua decided to approach the topic in an unconventional way. Instead of emphasizing the politics, she set the main focus on birds and their natural habitats in an ecologically significant region, where migratory flyways and climate zones converge.

“The way you create interest is by making people fall in love with things, and I think it’s really easy to fall in love with birds, because they’re everywhere,” Padua shared.

To refer to the original Audubon article, see - and view the documentary via Netflix!