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Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder Paperback – April 11, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Reprint edition (April 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618709401
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618709403
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

As ornithologist Kenn Kaufman recounts in his lively memoir Kingbird Highway, he's managed to do what other birders only dream of doing: take a year and chase winged creatures from one end of the country to another. The year in question was 1973, when Kaufman was 19 years old, and a few dollars and an outstretched thumb could go a long way. Armed with binoculars, notebook, and the blessing of birder patron saint Roger Tory Peterson, Kaufman set out to capture the record for most species spotted in a single year. He came close, closing with 666 species sighted from Alaska to Florida and back again. More important, he racked up a lifetime's worth of adventures on the road. These stories form the heart of his book, a narrative in which spotted redshanks, white-eared hummingbirds, marbled murrelets, and black-capped gnatcatchers are among the chief supporting players. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Kaufman set out on his first solo birding trip when he was 16 years old, on a Greyhound bus, starting in Wichita, Kansas, and ending up in a California jail, for it was illegal for minors to be in that state without adult supervision. So began his quest to set a record: spotting the most North American bird species in a one-year period. Kaufman did just that in 1973, sighting what was then a record 229 species on a grueling hitchhiking trip that took him from Puget Sound to the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico. Other birding trips followed, from North Dakota to Alaska, from Alaska to Maine, from Maine to Mazatlan in Mexico, and from Arizona to New Jersey. On those arduous trips, too, the author hitchhiked, stopping to work at odd jobs to earn a few dollars. His book is a fascinating memoir of an obsession with birds. George Cohen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Kenn Kaufman is a legend among birders. 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 KINGBIRD HIGHWAY, LIVES OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS, the PETERSON FIELD GUIDE TO ADVANCED BIRDING, in addition to originating the KAUFMAN FIELD GUIDE series, which includes books on birds, butterflies, mammals, and insects. He resides in Rocky Ridge, Ohio.

Customer Reviews

What a wonderful adventure, Kenn knew what he loved from a young age and pursued it.
Plus, Kaufman writes about birds very well, sketching in few words those aspects of form and behavior that entranced him most.
Julie C Hammonds
If you have the slightest interest in nature or birds and like good books, buy this one and read it.
Christopher Moellering

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I first read Kenn Kaufman's KINGBIRD HIGHWAY, a year and a half ago, on a trip to Churchill, Manitoba. It was such a compelling story, I knew immediately that I had to review it. Although I run the risk now of being the last reviewer in America to cover this book, KINGBIRD HIGHWAY is too good to pass up. It's a cut above anything written so far by an American birder and will surely be regarded as a classic in future years.
KINGBIRD HIGHWAY tells the tale of how, at age 16, Kenn Kaufman dropped everything and hit the road in search of birds. It's a remarkable story. There he was: honor student; president of the student council-obviously a gifted kid with a bright future in college. But his overwhelming yearning to learn everything he could about birds could not be suppressed or even postponed. He dropped out of school and began hitchhiking back and forth across the continent, searching for birds and adventure.
"I knew that, back at home, kids my age were going back to school," wrote Kaufman. "They had the clang of locker doors in the halls of South High in Wichita, Kansas. I had a nameless mountainside in Arizona, with sunlight streaming down among the pines, and Mexican songbirds moving through the high branches. My former classmates were moving toward their education, no doubt, just as I was moving toward mine, but now I was traveling a road that no one had charted for me . . . and my adventure was beginning."
Kaufman learned to survive on pennies a day (he budgeted himself only one dollar a day for food). He sold blood plasma twice a week, for five dollars a pint. He went to temporary employment agencies and would work by the day, until he had $50, then hit the road again.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Rosenthal on June 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
If you're stuck in a boring 9-5 job after having paid your dues with years of higher education, you'll be jealous of Kenn Kaufman's freedom at a young age to do what he wanted, learn what he wanted and lay the groundwork for one of the most successful careers in birding in the U.S.
If you're a birder, or at least trying to be a birder, you'll be jealous of the amount of ground Kenn Kaufman covered in the span of a few short years to see and marvel at 100's of birds.
If you're a writer, whether published or not, you'll be jealous of Kenn Kaufman's ability to write a such vividly-rendered account of his souped-up travails engaging in one of the most sympathetic pastimes to develop among modern humans, that of birding, contextualized with his growing awareness of the impact of human encroachment on the wilderness as an increasingly serious environmental problem. Whether the story surveys Kaufman's encounters with the awfully unlucky Myrtle Warblers stuck on North Carolina's Outer Banks in the winter of '73, the transplanted Skylarks of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest, or the migrating warblers stopping for a respite at Fort Jefferson in the Tortugas; or whether Kaufman is birding with his group of friends self-dubbed the "Tucson Five," or enduring the numbing experience of "thumbing" on the road for months on end; he makes you see what he's seeing and feel what he's feeling.
Finally, if you're someone who treasures the comforts of a soft pillow at night and a warm, dry roof over your head, you have to admire Kaufman's tenacity in dealing with -- and his almost joyful tolerance of-- bad weather, having to hike for miles before finding that much-needed ride or the 669th bird for his Big Year List, and, especially, the hunger born of a budget that probably didn't quite reach shoe-string level.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By James Brooks on November 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Kenn Kaufman answers the question of what happened to all those scruffy kids who were hitching rides across America in the early 1970s. They grew up. In his case, this story of an epic quest to see more birds in a single year than anyone ever had before, lay in a box 25 years after it was written. Fortunately he decided to dust it off, clean it up and share it with us. I met Kenn once when I was on my own quest to see 400 birds in North America in a single year, about 15 years after he found 666 species, or 671, depending on whose rules you are using. He showed me my first Varied Bunting at the Patagonia Refuge. I got started on this road of bird listing after finding Jim Vardaman's book and reading it about a dozen times. Vardaman beat Kaufman's record with dollars, finding 699 in a single year. Probably Kaufman's book will inspire many more to take up the quest, for the simple reason that he's a far better storyteller. This is an adventure that goes far beyond bird watching. It is a lyrical book of the road, like Kerouac with a purpose. The music of trips remembered by a single song played to death by the AM stations comes ringing back over the years. I remember hitching from Missouri to New York State and hearing "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do," each time I got into a car. Kaufman tops that with the thunder of Jim Morrison's voice warning drivers who just picked him up, "There's a killer on the road." He transforms it into, "There's a birder on the road," but you can feel the discomfort of getting into cars in Southern states to that refrain. A high school dropout, lured by the bird quest at age 16, Kaufman's education about relationships came from statements of disillusion -- confessions to a stranger on an all night drive.Read more ›
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