Kingbird Highway

Overview

At sixteen, Kenn Kaufman dropped out of high school and hit the road, hitching back and forth across America, from Alaska to Florida, Maine to Mexico. When he started out, his goal was to set a record for most birds seen in a year. Along the way, though, what had been a game became a quest for a deeper understanding of the natural world. Kingbird Highway is a unique coming of age story, combining a lyrical celebration of nature with wild adventures and some unbelievable ...
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Overview

At sixteen, Kenn Kaufman dropped out of high school and hit the road, hitching back and forth across America, from Alaska to Florida, Maine to Mexico. When he started out, his goal was to set a record for most birds seen in a year. Along the way, though, what had been a game became a quest for a deeper understanding of the natural world. Kingbird Highway is a unique coming of age story, combining a lyrical celebration of nature with wild adventures and some unbelievable characters.

A field editor for Audubon and a regular contributor to every major birding magazine, Kenn Kaufman is the youngest person ever to receive the Ludlow Griscom Award, the highest honor of the American Birding Association. Author of the revolutionary new Focus Guide to Birds of North America, as well as Lives of North American Birds and the Peterson Field Guide to Advanced Birding, Kenn Kaufman is a legend among birders.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
July 1997

A lot of people were "dropping out" in 1970. For some it was drugs, for others self-discovery, for others still it was just a good time. Kenn Kaufman dropped out to go looking for birds. Kingbird Highway: The Story of a Natural Obsession That Got a Little Out of Hand chronicles Kaufman's precarious existence as a 16-year-old in post-Aquarius America, hitchhiking back and forth across the country on an obsessed ornithological quest. His goal: to set a record for the most North American species seen in a year.

Kingbird Highway provides a rare and intimate look into the years that transformed bird watching into the popular and intense pursuit we know today. According to Kaufman, a leading figure in the field of birding, the early 1970s was the formative era during which "bird watching" became "birding," and the hobby changed from "a mild local pastime to a continent-wide craze." As Kaufman traveled toward one destination, a report of a rare bird would send him hitching nonstop to another location, Pacific to Atlantic, Alaska to Florida, Maine to Mexico, taking up odd jobs to support himself along the way. In a year, traveling more than 80,000 miles, he spent less than a thousand dollars, sleeping outside regardless of the weather and eating Little Friskies catfood when funds were low.

As Kaufman's bird tally grew, his wild and ambitious game became a journey of self-discovery. Realizing that at his breakneck speed he was "looking" rather than "seeing," Kaufman received an invaluable lesson that inspired a deeper understanding of thenaturalworld. A unique coming-of-age story, Kingbird Highway combines a lyrical celebration of nature with raw adventure and a colorful cast of characters, including some of the major figures in American birding.

KLIATT
Most people are familiar with the term "birdwatching," but fewer know of "birding," the preferred term for those who actively pursue sighting of specific species and creating a count (sometimes a competitive count) of those species. The evolution of birdwatching to birding took place in the 1970s—the same time period of Kingbird Highway. Kenn Kaufman was still a teenager then, and with the permission of his amazingly understanding parents, he took to hitchhiking the country in search of birds. During one special year (1973) his species tally went up to a record 671. There is something genial and comforting in a memoir that has as one of its plot highlights "The bird peering down at me from among the palm fronds was the first Rufous-backed Robin ever for the state of California." Kaufman is now a field editor for Audubon magazine and author of a number of key books on birding. Those in the field regard him as somewhat legendary; for the more amateur naturalist or birdwatcher, his coming-of-age "travel guide" should also prove an entertaining and enlightening read. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students, and adults. 1997, Houghton Mifflin/Mariner, 318p, illus, notes, 21cm, 97-581, $13.00. Ages 17 to adult. Reviewer: Katherine E. Gillen; Libn. Luke AFB Lib. AZ, May 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 3)
Kirkus Reviews
You may not have found your loins quivering at the thought of a rose-throated becard, but Kaufman (Lives of North American Birds, not reviewed) has, and here he sings sweetly about the birder's ineffable fascination with all things feathered.

By the age of 16, Kaufman knew what he wanted from life: to look at birds. So he dropped out of school—with the blessings of his admirably tolerant parents—and hit the road in search of birds. With very little money, he needed ingenuity to survive. He discovered, for instance, that a box of Little Friskies cat food could sustain him for a week. He gradually encounterd a subculture of birding aficionados and joined their ranks. In 1973, when he turned 19, he decided to embark on a so-called Big Year: to count as many species as he could manage in a year's time. The book is largely taken up with that quest. There are, of course, plenty of birds here, from the everyday to the extremely rare, but Kaufman also provides—in a winning, plain-spoken prose style—a Baedeker that covers the fine art of hitchhiking, crackling landscapes, and sharp profiles of other birders (as with any subculture, the personalities ranged from the repulsive to the sublime). The listing begins to pale by the end of the year: "Views of birds are measured in milliseconds, in which bird songs are classified instantly, and then ignored, in which no precious moment of daylight could be wasted on aesthetics." Yet one can only marvel at how determined he was (he eventually counted 666 species) and at the purity of his enterprise, and join him in regretting that the compilation of lists has shifted "away from knowledge and planning and experience, toward contacts and hotlines and money."

For Kaufman, the pleasure now lies not in lists but in simply watching attentively. He makes us understand the joys of both in this frank, passionate book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395773987
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 6/30/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.81 (w) x 8.57 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenn Kaufman is a legend among birders. At sixteen he hitchhiked back and forth across North America, traveling eighty thousand miles in a year, simply to see as many birds as he could; he came back to tell the story in KINGBIRD HIGHWAY. A field editor for AUDUBON and a regular contributor to every major birding magazine, he is the youngest person ever to receive the Ludlow Griscom Award, the highest honor of the American Birding Association. His natural history pursuits have taken him to all seven continents, but he has made a special study of North American birds. His books include LIVES OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS, the PETERSON FIELD GUIDE TO ADVANCED BIRDING, and the FOCUS GUIDE TO BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA. He resides in Tucson, Arizona.
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Table of Contents

Editor's Note: Capitalizing of Birds' Names ix
Preface xi
Not Quite the West 1
Finding the Road 9
A Record for the Breaking 15
The Tucson Five 24
California Influence 33
Just Like Christmas 45
There's a Birder on the Road 53
Time of a Rival 63
Strategy and Hard Weather 78
To the Promised Landfill 94
Truckers' March 105
Shadow of Alaska, Shades of England 119
Dry Tortugas 136
The Fall of a Sparrow 151
Legions in the Sky 162
A Day As Big As Texas 174
Springtime Fades Away 190
The Kenmare Convention 203
A Thousand Miles of Gravel 217
The Edge of the World 228
Full Summer 247
Birdman's Holiday 256
Spots Before the Eyes 270
Exhausting the Possibilities 281
Border Patrol 294
Close to the End 301
Appendix Notes on List Totals 315
Acknowledgments 317
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