RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Records are meant to be broken.

Those were the words sent to Tiffany Kersten by the previous record holder for most birds species seen in the 48 contiguous United States in a year after she eclipsed the mark in December 2021. Kersten, a Mission resident, spotted 726 species of birds in 2021 by traveling across all 48 states.

Kersten was initially planning on identifying just 700 bird species in her attempt at a “Big Year,” a term in the bird-watching community used to define huge milestones people go after when trying to identify birds. Around the same time, she planned on launching her own bird-watching tour guide business.

“I was looking for a job but had no offers, so I thought if any time is the time then it’s now to see if I can be a professional birding guide,” said Kersten.

Kersten is no spring chicken when it comes to bird-watching. The 35-year-old has held a passion for the activity since she was a child in Wisconsin. She moved down to the RGV after graduating college and has grown to love the area for its nature and abundance in bird activity.

“There are 30 species of birds that can only be found in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Kersten. “The weather is nice for what I’m interested in.”

The social flycatcher’s only location in the United States is in the Rio Grande Valley (photo: Tiffany Kersten)

She traveled to 48 states to meet her goal across the year and hit her goal of 700 on Oct. 2. She became the youngest woman to accomplish the mark. But with a whole three months remaining in 2021, Kersten set her sights on an even bigger mark: eclipsing the record of 724.

In these final months, Kersten’s focus turned on locating rare birds in tight corners of the country. She took flights from state to state sometimes looking for a single bird species.

“It felt crazy but I was booking flights just to find individual species,” said Kersten. “I had good luck and I did not miss a bird after a flight until after I broke the record.”

Kersten tied the record one such trip to Oklahoma with the sighting of a Smith’s longspur. During this trip, she heard of reports that a rare bird was spotted at the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in Alamo.

On Dec. 18, Kersten quickly booked a flight and made her way back to the RGV to see the bird, a bat falcon, the 725th bird species she identified during 2021. Adding to the rarity, it was the first time a bat falcon was ever spotted in the United States.

Kersten broke the record by spotting the bat falcon. It’s the first-ever recorded spotting of one of these birds in the United States (photo: Tiffany Kersten)

She wasn’t done there, though. Kersten headed on another flight shortly after to New Jersey to get a glimpse at a northern lapwing and reach 726 bird species seen. She made further attempts to see a common crane in California and another bird in North Carolina but these trips were unsuccessful.

In the end, Kersten became the record holder for most birds seen in a year in the Contiguous 48 United States. Along the way, she attracted sponsorship deals from binocular companies, gained awareness for her focus on women’s safety, and was even approached for a book deal.

With her Big Year behind her, Kersten is now focused on being a bird-watching guide full-time with Nature Ninja Bird Tours, a business she started near the end of 2020. Business is picking up for Kersten as she looks to solidify herself as one of the perennial bird guides in the RGV. For more information, visit here.