Kenn Kaufman became enthralled with nature when he was a very young boy.
He would walk around his neighborhood in South Bend, Ind., and take in everything he saw around him.
“Nobody else in my family shared that interest,” Kaufman said. “I got fascinated with things around the neighborhood. I would go out looking for elephants and dinosaurs, but I never found any. When I was about 6, I figured there was nothing out here but birds, so I better figure out what those things were.
“Once I started looking at birds, they started becoming interesting after all. We had the same kinds of birds we see in Toledo and Port Clinton. I was looking at sparrows and cardinals and robins. When you're 6, those kinds of things can be exciting.”
Kaufman's fascination with the outdoors – and winged animals in particular – only heightened as he grew older. Since 2000 he has written several popular outdoor field guides that have been distributed all over the world.
|Birding author Kenn Kaufman in the field. (Photo by
His published works include “Field Guide to Butterflies of North America,” “Field Guide to Mammals of North America,” “Field Guide to Birds of North America,” and “Field Guide to Insects of North America.”
“The bird guide is also available in a Spanish language edition,” Kaufman said. “I've traveled a lot to Mexico and South America. I can get by in (speaking) Spanish, but I'm not fluent. I did the editing in the Spanish text, so I know something about it.”
Kaufman's “Field Guide to Birds of North America” was updated in 2005.
“My first book was called 'The Field Guide to Advanced Birding' and it was in the Peterson series, which were the first bird guides and nature guides that became popular in North America,” Kaufman said. “It was mostly for expert birders. It did pretty well.”
Kaufman, 57, said becoming a published author was “pretty exciting.”
“Up to that point (2000), I had been writing stuff for magazines,” he said. “Seeing your name on a book was like a different feeling. I was definitely hooked.”
In the 1990s, Kaufman published a reference book on how birds lived, called “Lives of North American Birds.” He also published a book entitled “Kingbird Highway.”
“That one was sort of like my memoir before my 20th birthday,” Kaufman said. “I left home when I was 16 and went hitchhiking around the U.S., Canada and Mexico chasing birds. I later wrote a book about it and it's still in print.”
Kaufman's “Field Guide” books are usually “in the neighborhood” of about 400 pages and come in what he called “turtleback.”
“It's not hardback or paperback,” he said. “It's kind of vinyl-bound. It's a flexible cover with water resistant coating on it.”
Kaufman, who is married to Black Swamp Bird Observatory Executive Director Kim Kaufman, has resided in Oak Harbor for about three years. Prior to that, he lived in Rocky Ridge and Tucson, Ariz. He said he doesn't actually know how many books he's sold over the years.
“The bird guide has been the one that's been the best,” Kaufman said. “The last figures I saw was somewhat over 400,000 copies (since 2000). There are an awful lot of birders out there, and there are a lot of different bird guides, too. It's a tremendously popular activity. If you come out for birding this spring, thousands of people are coming out.”
Where does Kaufman get the information for his “Field Guide” series? Travel and experience, he said, count for a lot.
“I've pretty much traveled everywhere,” Kaufman said. “For the bird guide, I wrote text for that off the top of my head. I've essentially seen every bird in North America. If you travel enough, you run into all these things. I spent a lot of time traveling as a teenager and I was leading nature tours. I've done actual bird watching tours all over North America and all over the world, and that gives you a lot of opportunity to look at stuff.”
Kaufman said the number of bird species that are seen and recorded in Northwest Ohio fluctuates every season.
“It varies so much,” he said. “There are more during some seasons than others. More than 350 kinds of birds have been found in Northwest Ohio, but they're not all here in in any given year. Some of them are just rare visitors. The month of May here, bird watchers come here from all over the continent because of the huge numbers of migrating birds that stop here. There's a lot of variety.”
While Kaufman acknowledged that birding has become one of the most popular outdoor activities in the U.S., he is at a loss to explain exactly why.
“I wish I had an explanation for that,” he said. “Once you get into it, there's so much variety. Birds have wings and they move around, so you're never sure what you're going to see. Every time you go out, it's kind of like a treasure hunt.”