Number 10,000 was hiding in a thicket of heliconias on the Philippine island of Mindanao. Peter Kaestner says that he and his helper Zardo Goring were actually looking for a species of woodpecker that afternoon in February. But then they heard a noise from the heliconia thicket – and a green sunbird with an orange belly appeared. “We both then took a quick look at it and confirmed that it was the ten thousandth bird. And then I focused on getting a good photo so I could immediately post it on social media.” Afterwards, Kaestner celebrated the success – as he said he did with all his sightings – with an ice cream.

Observing and documenting birds has been a popular hobby for centuries, but it has found even more fans in many places during the pandemic. Bird watchers, for example, document their sightings on online portals. The whole thing works according to a code of honor, there are no official checks – this also applies to Kaestner’s record.

Lifelong love of birds

The 70-year-old has been a passionate bird watcher his whole life – and thanks to the green-orange sunbird Arachnothera flammifera, he is now considered to be the first and only person in the world to have ever seen and documented 10,000 bird species in the wild. “Peter Kaestner has broken the 10,000 bird barrier,” cheered the American Birding Association (ABA) and congratulated its long-standing member on this “significant achievement.” “The ABA congratulates Peter on his decades of perseverance and diligence and for always being an exemplary ambassador for birds and birding.”

Kaestner himself is modest. “There are many people who are much better bird watchers than me. It was only through a lot of luck and hard work that I managed to create the largest list to date.” Countless people would have helped him.

Others also spotted thousands of species

Scientists estimate that there are around 11,000 species of birds worldwide. New species are constantly being discovered or species become extinct. According to the Nature Conservation Association, around 300 species occur in Germany. Dozens of people say they have seen and documented more than 8,000 bird species in the wild. There is great camaraderie and support among the well-known top observers, says Kaestner.

The long-standing record holder was the Swede Claes-Göran Cederlund, to whom 9,829 sightings are attributed. Shortly before Kaestner’s record, a second American, Jason Mann, announced that he would soon have documented 10,000 bird sightings – but experts quickly pointed out inaccuracies, Mann apologized and acknowledged Kaestner’s record.

Kaestner, who grew up in Baltimore on the US East Coast, says he can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t interested in birds. “My brother Hank started it when he was ten and I was two. He saw a ruby ​​tyrant and that sparked his interest. We watched birds together as kids and we still do it today.”

Lots of travel thanks to being a diplomat

After graduating from university with a degree in ornithology, among other things, Kaestner began a career as a diplomat. “This has made it possible for me to live and work in some of the most bird-rich countries in the world – Colombia, Brazil, Papa New Guinea, Malaysia and India, for example.” Kaestner also spent a few years at the US Consulate in Frankfurt and explored the birds native to Germany with his wife Kimberly. Among other things, they reportedly observed “beautiful bee-eaters” in Ingelheim and red-breasted geese in Saxony.

Kaestner says he had countless adventures on his bird-watching trips – his ship sank in the Amazon and Indonesia, he got lost on an island in the South Pacific, he was almost shot in Namibia and encountered gorillas in the Congo.

In Colombia he discovered a previously unknown bird species, the Cundinamarca Antpitta, which was given the technical name Grallaria kaestneri in his honor – now “of course” his favorite bird. Together with non-governmental organizations, he achieved the establishment of a protected area for the species’ habitat.

“The miracle of flying gives me joy”

He enjoys everything about bird watching, says Kaestner. “I enjoy adding new bird species to my list. I enjoy the challenge of discovering difficult-to-find species. I enjoy the physical effort it takes to get to some species. I enjoy the biology of birds Joy. The miracle of flight gives me joy. The behavior of birds gives me joy. Being in nature and enjoying the beauty and solitude of our wonderful planet , makes me happy.”

After the 10,000 species, Kaestner doesn’t want to stop. “Birdwatching is too big a part of me to just stop.” But he now wants to take more time and go on more sightings with his wife Kimberly – for example, trips to the naked-headed bird of paradise in the Indonesian archipelago of Raja Ampat or to the bulbar pheasant on Borneo are planned. He also recently started to enjoy diving. “I have now also started documenting my butterflyfish sightings.”