Kingbird Highway: The Story of a Natural Obsession That Got a Little Out of Hand by Kenn Kaufman. First published 1997.
The back of my Mariner Books copy of Kingbird Highway indicates the category as Travel and Adventures, which perfectly suits this extremely enjoyable, exciting and well-written memoir by noted birder and ornithologist Kenn Kaufman. As most North American birders probably know, Kaufman dropped out of high school to travel the United States in search of birds. But that short, simplistic description of Kaufman’s early years doesn’t begin to cover the fascinating journey on which he takes readers in Kingbird Highway.
While reading of the adventures of a young birder, I couldn’t help thinking about the Young Birder clubs that have recently been established in Kaufman’s current home state, Ohio, as well as Indiana, New York, and elsewhere, including the new club in Illinois. While birders of all ages are welcomed at birding clubs, these organizations aimed at the younger crowd help budding birders meet up with like-minded and like-hobbied friends. During his travels, Kaufman managed to run into birders of his own age, but it took crossing a continent several times to meet up with just a dozen or so. In his youth Kaufman traveled on an extremely tight budget, hitchhiking his way from bird to bird. Times change, and it’s unlikely anyone will be able to accomplish a similar feat in the future. Hopefully Young Birder clubs will help the birding superstars of tomorrow have different, exciting adventures of their own.
Kingbird Highway is a must-read for birders of all levels, especially anyone interested in the listing game. I was fascinated by Kaufman’s insight into big year listing, and how that activity fits into the study and enjoyment of birds, and I think you will be, too. I give Kingbird Highway 5 Goldfinches out of 5.