If you grew up during the 1970s and 1980s then you will distinctively remember your parents providing a few warnings about life. Halloween candy is laced with razor blades. Don’t eat a pixie stick from a stranger. Don’t get in someone’s van. And for the love of God, don’t even think about f%$%^%$ HITCHHIKING. You will certainly die. For this reason alone you should read Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway. Kenn not only hitchhiked all over North America, but he also mastered the technique which was part of what allowed him to pull off the biggest of years.
A Big Year in birding is the race to see how many bird species someone can see in one calendar year. List making, counting, and competition in the high levels of birding, a “sport” that you might consider fringe until you realize that twenty-seven million Americans self-identify as “birders.” And birding, by the way, does NOT mean birdwatching.
Kingbird Highway is a personal narrative that glides by like a peregrine falcon. (Okay, not more bird analogies.) Kaufman details his early life in Kansas and having the idea of birds, migration, taxonomy plated at an early age. Birding takes over and one day his “Big Year,” becomes the prize. Not only is the trip a fascinating story of perseverance but it also astounds in other ways. Kaufman manages the entire year on less than $1000 and even resorts to cat food at one point. (It’s not that bad but I prefer dog food.)
Perhaps more than anything else, this book is about observation. Once you understand the range of species that’s out there, and once you begin to identify different species, observe the spring and fall migrations birding suddenly seems like something you SHOULD have been doing all along. Get it, read it, pass it along to a niece or nephew.