Kingbird Highway

Kenn Kaufman

Kingbird Highway

In Kingbird Highway, Kenn Kaufman describes how he dropped out of school at 16 and hit the road in search of as many birds as he could see in the course of one 'Big Year' – as it's called by those who engage in such activities.

“People always called us 'birdwatchers.' But if we had been, there would be no story to tell.

Nothing could have been simpler than 'birdwatching.' An activity by that name would have required nothing more than one person, alone, watching birds, any birds. The birds rarely would have watched the person in return; perfectly independent, birds had no reason to care about humans. So the watching would have been one-way, and the matter would have ended there, with no ramifications.

But in the early 1970s, we were not birdwatching. We were birding, and that made all the difference. We were out to seek, to discover, to chase, to learn, to find as many different kinds of birds as possible – and, in friendly competition, to try to find more of them than the next birder. We became a community of birders, with the complications that human societies always have; and although it was the birds that had brought us together, our story became a human story after all.”

Here Kaufman writes about a colony of English birds in Canada:

“Even the Victoria Sky Larks were far from their native land. Their ancestors had been trapped out of the pastures of England and crated halfway around the world, to the shadow of Alaska. And the birds that had founded the San Juan Island group must have been lost themselves, storm-driven, perhaps, from the population at Victoria. This is really the lost colony, I said to myself. It's alone in the wilderness, an outpost cut off from the fatherland for eternity.

Once more I walked down to the edge of the tall grass, to the border of the larks' world, and stood looking upward. A single Sky Lark was up there now, towering on quivered wings, high above the earth. The song that came rippling and running and trilling down spoke defiance: defiance to raging seas and rock-bound coasts, to the wintry cast of the sky, to the spirits of this northwestern island. It seemed then that even the elements must acknowledge this singer for the eloquence of his futile challenge. At length another Sky Lark came up to the west, and another off to the east; the voices range down the sky, on and on, as if the song would go on forever.”

Hitchhiking across the United States, meeting other birders from all over, living on less than a dollar a day during his 'Big Year', Kaufman tells the amazing true story of his competition to see the most birds in one 365-day period, and tells it poetically. Be sure to read all about it!


Copyright 2010, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.