Book Review of Kingbird Highway

Title: Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder
Author: Kenn Kaufman
Pages: 320

Most birders are familiar with Kenn Kaufman’s nature guides, but this book is different. This is Kaufman’s memoir, which chronicles the events of 1973 when he undertook the task of seeing 600+ species of birds in North America, all within the timeframe of one calendar year. He was only nineteen at the time.

Kaufman traveled all over the continent, strategically planning out trips that would allow him to see the most species possible. He spent the entire year doing nothing but travel. He visited the Florida Keys, Alaska, the East, the West, and everywhere in between. Many people dream of traveling to such a variety of birding hot spots, but most of us cannot because of the cost! But Kaufman didn’t have money. He hitchhiked everywhere he went and lived very cheaply. He never spent money on lodging so if he didn’t have friends to stay with, he slept outside. His adventures are interesting, but I don’t know if a non-birder would want to read about them. I don’t think they would understand why someone would want to go to the landfill just to see a Mexican Crow.

I sometimes feel that birders get so carried away with listing, that they forget why they ever came to love birds in the first place. It almost seems like it becomes more important to check things off a list than it does to enjoy watching the birds. A birder in Kaufman’s memoir says about listing: “The list is just a frivolous incentive for birding…The journey is what counts” (44). Towards the conclusion of his Big Year, Kaufman notes, “list-chasing [is] not the best way to learn birds” (306).

The book was a fun read, and I learned a lot about the birding subculture in the 1970’s. Kaufman describes this time as a period of rapid-growth in birding because communication had been increased through hot-line numbers and birding clubs. I couldn’t help but compare it to birding now. With the Internet, birding has virtually no limits.

This book is most useful to experienced birders.

Readibility: 8 out of 10 Feathers

Usefulness: 6 out of 10 Feathers

4 thoughts on “Book Review of Kingbird Highway

  1. Every birder should try and replicate a trip like Kaufmann’s too! Maybe without the hitch-hiking.

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