Posted: February 1, 2008, 12:00 a.m. PDT
At age 15, Malkolm Boothroyd hopped on his mountain bike and started cycling from his home in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, in search of birds. This wasn't a random bike ride through his neighborhood to pass the time. Malkolm embarked on a 12,000-mile quest.
Since that day on June 21, 2007, Malkolm, joined by his parents, has seen more than 400 species, including Tufted Puffins and endangered California Condors. By June 21 this year, Malkolm hopes to have more than 500 species on his bird year's list - without having used any fossil fuel for transportation.
His goal, he said in a phone interview in December from Texas, goes beyond having fun while counting as many birds as possible. "Hopefully we'll inspire people to live greener lives," he said.
During their U.S. tour, Malkolm and his parents, Wendy Boothroyd, 51, and Ken Madsen, 57, are spreading the word on "green birding." They're trying to get birders to think twice about their fossil fuel use.
Malkolm felt inspired by books such as "The Big Year" by Mark Obmascik and "Kingbird Highway" by Kenn Kauffman, which detail the distances traveled to chase birds for an entire year. "I wanted to do it differently than those guys were," Malkolm said.
Preparations for this journey took three years of planning. Malkolm completed grades 8, 9 and 10 in two years to take a year off for the trip. His efforts are paying off.
"I'm probably learning way more than I would be if I were sitting in a class reading out of a book," he said. His mother, a family doctor, agreed.
"It's his reward," she said. "We've not done anything of this magnitude before."
The family saved money to pay their own way. They have an estimated monthly budget of $2,000.
Malkolm's most memorable encounters so far have occurred along the Big Sur coast in California, where eight condors circled above, as well as LaPush, Wash., where he paddled into the ocean to see Tufted Puffins. "A brightly colored, comical-looking bird with an orange beak gave us a great show," he said.
Upon arriving in Texas, Malkolm and his parents have cycled more than 6,000 miles. The strong head winds made them feel as if they were peddling up a hill, Wendy said. They ride for six hours a day; some days, more.
Vehicles pose another challenge, she said. In Del Rio, Texas, she had her first close call with a car when it almost side-swiped her. She describes this and other experiences in a blog that the family frequently updates on Malkolm's website, www.birdyear.com.
The website is one way for them to communicate with friends and family while on the road. They carry a laptop computer and a cell phone to use when they have electricity and Internet access. "We don't always have either of those," Wendy said with a laugh.
They don't always have the best accommodations, either. They sleep wherever they can set up camp. Sometimes it's a state park's campground; other times, it's a gravel pit on the side of the road. Every so often, they're invited to stay at the home of a birder who has heard of their cause.
Malkolm's dad said they've received many great offers from the birding community.
While in Orange County, Calif., Madsen said the three of them were adopted by Sea and Sage Audubon. They cycled together to the Bolsa Chica wetlands, reclaimed from oil drilling and spared from becoming a huge marina and housing development. They also enjoyed potluck dinners and stayed in luxurious hotels. "We've had that kind of welcome all over the place," said Madsen, a writer and photographer.
Connecting with members of the birding community from around the world is what makes their journey rewarding, Malkolm and his parents agreed. Whether it's inviting others to join them on the road for birding and cycling or offering to stop in a community and give a slide presentation, their mission is to reach out to people everywhere.
"Dozens of common birds are threatened and in decline," Wendy said. "We really feel that we need to stop that now."
If Malkolm and his parents are able to encourage people to depend less on fossil-fuel transportation, to raise money for bird conservation and, of course, to count as many birds as possible, then they will know that their journey was worth all 12,000 miles. During their journey, they hope to raise $12,000 for the conservation of birds and their habitat. That's $1 per mile. So far, they have raised $3,000. Donations can be made at www.birdyear.com.
This article first appeared in the March/April 2008 issue of WildBird.