Acclaimed birder Kenn Kaufman an all-star of ‘Birding Week’

May 3, 2023 | Featured, Around Ottawa County | 0 comments

Kenn Kaufman seems to be relaxing while seated at the west entrance of the Magee Marsh Boardwalk, at least until a bird tries to slip past him. He can seemingly spot a tiny, colorful warbler a mile away. (Photo by D’Arcy Patrick Egan)


Kenn Kaufman decided to settle in Oak Harbor a while back for two big reasons. That’s where the spring migration of songbirds and raptors is exceedingly entertaining for a bird watcher in early May, and where the love of his life, Kimberly Kaufman, was the head of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

Both are dynamic when it comes to birding. Kimberly developed the extremely successful Biggest Week in American Birding, which will attract more people from May 5-14 than a Cleveland Browns Super Bowl, should that ever happen.

Kenn Kaufman, 69, has been the consummate outdoorsman, birder, author, photographer and artist. When Kaufman speaks, everyone listens. When he publishes a book, it’s a best seller.

For most big-time birders, a “life list” of birds they’ve seen defines their birding ability. Kaufman doesn’t have time.

“I used to keep a life list in my teens and 20s,” he said. At 69, he’s delighted that the heralded Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y. does that for him with the app eBird, and a click of his computer mouse.

“I’d guess my life list is at about 8,000, but I haven’t looked lately. I still keep notes on the birds I see, so I can look back and see precisely when the sparrows come back to our back yard. Or see solitary sandpipers up here on the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.”

A world traveler, he’s guided birders on seven continents. He’s been known to hike up a rugged South American mountain trail for two days, then hunker down for a few days or more just to see one species of bird. He still has a few places to go birding on his bucket list, though he’s visited most of the top places — and usually more than once or twice.

“I’d say Madagascar is No. 1 in destinations. Everything there is unique,” he said. “The plant life, mammals, birds — there are whole families of birds in Madagascar that are plentiful, but found nowhere else. New Guinea would probably be second.”

Kaufman has authored or co-authored an acclaimed series of Field Guides, and was given the Ludlow Griscom Award by the American Birding Association in 1992. Kaufman also received the ABA Roger Tory Peterson Award in 2008 for a “lifetime of achievements in promoting the cause of birding.”

His book “Kingbird Highway” of his birding adventures is a classic. “A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration,” in 2019, is a personal favorite, because it intimately explains the spring migration in Northwest Ohio, and why and how it happens.

He’s back at this computer working on a historical book on birding.

“Things were happening back in 1803 and 1842 around North America,” he said. “It was the time of Audubon, and the beginning of American ornithology.”

While the Great Week in American Birding draws crowds, Kaufman credits it with expanding America’s interest in birding, not a deterrent.

“I’m seeing more diversity, more ages, languages and skin tones,” he pointed out. “Amish families with grandmothers, young couples starting out birding.

“The appearance of the birding community is starting to look like the rest of the population.”

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November 2023

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