Spanish language field guide spreads the gospel on birds

‘Guia de campo a las aves de norteamerica’ is the first-ever Spanish field guide to North American birds. It was written by birding expert Kenn Kaufman.
‘Guia de campo a las aves de norteamerica’ is the first-ever Spanish field guide to North American birds. It was written by birding expert Kenn Kaufman.

OAK HARBOR — There are no language barriers in the avian world, and no border crossings.

Birds spend a portion of their lives in the sky, where there are no boundaries, but for the rest of the time, they are down here on terra firma, with us, where our communication is a critical element in any effort to protect bird habitat, sustain bird populations, and simply understand more about these incredible flying machines.

When world-renowned birding expert Kenn Kaufman put together the definitive manual for birders on this continent nearly 15 years ago, he started thinking about how many people might not be able to utilize it. While his Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America was the King James Bible for English speakers, he felt it would miss the mark with too many others.

“I was living in Tucson at the time, and I knew a lot of birders from Hispanic backgrounds, and although they could speak English, they had relatives who were interested in birding, but their English was not that great,” Kaufman said. “I thought ‘why not make a field guide in Spanish’.”

Kaufman’s publisher got a little weak-kneed at the proposal, since there was no data to review on how such a guide might sell — this would be the first-ever Spanish language field guide to North American birds.

“I knew it probably wasn’t going to make any money, but that wasn’t the point,” Kaufman said. “I felt like it was too important to not follow through on this. Millions of people in this country speak Spanish at home, and many millions more in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, so I wanted to produce a guide in the language they would be most comfortable with.”

Kaufman had Patricia Manzano Fischer, who works with a conservation group in Mexico City, do the translation work, and he footed the bill. Mexican ornithologist Héctor Gómez de Silva wrote the voice descriptions of the various birds, which Kaufman said are particularly difficult to translate.

“For example, the Barred Owl calls ‘Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?’ " Kaufman said, “but translate that directly into Spanish and it becomes ‘Quien cocina para usted? Quien cocina para todos ustedes?’ — which has way too many syllables. So, Hector just wrote new descriptions directly in Spanish.”

There was also an issue with the length of the text, Kaufman said. He had to carefully sculpt the translations to make them fit the rigid page constraints of a field guide.

With the subtleties and nuances addressed, in 2005 a modest run of 6,000 copies of Kaufman Guía de campo a las aves de norteamérica soon came off the press.

“Once it was printed, I realized I hadn’t really given that much thought about how to distribute it, and my publisher had very little experience with Spanish language books,” Kaufman said.

Strong contacts in the southwest helped get the publication in the pipeline. Jennie Duberstein, the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Sonoran Joint Venture, serves as the point person for the project in that region. Her organization is headquartered in Tucson and covers southern Arizona, southern California, and a large section of northwestern Mexico.

As word that the guide was available in Spanish spread, Kaufman and his wife Kim, the current executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, attended a nature festival in Monterrey, Mexico. They brought some copies of the book along. The books were in such demand that Kaufman’s hosts auctioned them off.

After some brainstorming, in 2006 Kaufman’s wife and others came up with the notion of having birders purchase copies of the Spanish language guide for just $12 to cover the publication cost and the shipping, and the books would then be sent to Tucson to be distributed throughout southern Arizona and northern Mexico.

The Black Swamp Bird Observatory promoted the program in its newsletters and on its Web site, and Kaufman estimates that through sales and the donation project, and after two additional printings, there are more than 12,000 of the Spanish field guides in circulation. At least 3,000 of those have come via donations made through Black Swamp.

“The response has been great. I’m just really amazed at the generosity of people, and how much they want to help,” said Kaufman, who lives along the Lake Erie shoreline.

Missionaries headed to Guatemala have loaded up on copies of the guide, while another program has been put in place to distribute the Spanish language guide along The Great Florida Birding Trail, a 2,000-mile, 515-site highway path that promotes birding and wildlife viewing in the state.

When Kaufman delivered one of the keynote addresses of “The Biggest Week in American Birding” festival Saturday at the Maumee Bay Lodge & Conference Center, the admission charge was $12, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Guía program.

“It was a dream of mine to get the book printed in Spanish, because if you can get people to learn the names of birds in their neighborhood, and connect with nature on a personal level, then they are much more likely to work for the conservation of those birds,” Kaufman said.

“Some of the birds we see here in Ohio each spring spend half of the year in the tropical areas, so it wouldn’t make any difference what we did to protect the habitat here if these migratory birds are not protected in the rest of their range. The response to this project has been great. So many have stepped up to help with this effort.”

Want to assist the Guía project in its efforts to put Spanish language field guides in the hands of birders throughout North America? Visit bsbo.org and click on the “Donate” tab.

BIRD OHIO DAY: The first “Bird Ohio Day” was celebrated Saturday with a ceremony at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, a prime viewing location for migratory birds located north of Oak Harbor. A resolution drafted by Black Swamp Bird Observatory and sponsored by state Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) was recently adopted by the Ohio Senate and House designating the second Saturday in May as Bird Day Ohio. The event is intended to raise awareness of the beauty of birds, the value of bird tourism to Ohio, and the importance of being stewards of the habitats migratory birds depend on for their survival, a statement from BSBO said.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.