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Texas Trailblazers

Big Year for Birds … and Safety

Tiffany Kersten sort of fell into doing a birding Big Year in 2021, yet she managed to break the record with 726 species. What matters more to her, though, are the hundreds of personal safety alarms she distributed to women in the outdoors thanks to her birding activities.

A birder since age 12, Tiffany had guided as a side gig for about 10 years. When she lost her job in 2020, she relied on guiding to pay the bills. In early 2021, she took off on a birding road trip. Driving out of Franklin Mountains State Park on Feb. 10, she flushed some scaled quail.

“That was 287 species for the year, and something just flipped. I said, ‘OK, I’m going to try to do this,’” she says. “This” being a Lower 48 Big Year — checking off as many bird species as possible in one calendar year in the continental U.S.

Then, two things happened: allegations of sexual assault rocked the birding community, and Tiffany noticed a personal safety alarm company, She’s Birdie, on social media. An assault survivor herself, she decided to broaden the focus of her mission.

“Part of my goal became to show women birders there is space for us — to create safer spaces for women, not just physically but also emotionally,” she says.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, she launched a blog and a GoFundMe campaign. From every $50 donation, she used $35 to support her Big Year travels and $15 to buy alarms. (Later, the company began matching donations, allowing her to use the entire $50 to chase birds yet still provide alarms.)

“It was kind of awkward at first,” Tiffany says. “I made cards with my story and info about my blog and fundraiser and started having casual conversations with women I met about safety in the outdoors.”

Some shared their own stories. Others gave her $50 and told her to pay it forward.

Tiffany hit 700 birds, her publicized goal, on Oct. 2. Looking at the list of birds left to see, she realized the record — 724 — was within reach. She broke it on Dec. 18 with a bat falcon at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, just down the road from where she lives. A northern lapwing in New Jersey became No. 726.

At the beginning of 2022, she launched her own guiding company, Nature Ninja Birding Tours.

She’s continuing the partnership with She’s Birdie, with every $10 donation providing a free alarm for Tiffany to hand out. This next year will be big … on purpose.

 Chase Fountain | TPWD

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