Birds Of A Feather

Fred Goes "Bird" Watching

Back in the days when I worked for Bob and Patti Carpenter at Road Rider magazine, they often divided their time between riding motorcycles and their other favorite pursuit, birdwatching. That always seemed like a strange combination of interests to me, but it worked for them, and they were often even able to combine the two, riding bikes to far-off game preserves and such to add another “catch” to their birding books.

Personally, I never quite understood their passionate pursuit of what seemed to me a rather odd pastime, but then suddenly, just the other day, I realized that I was engaging in an activity almost identical to theirs. And no, I am not a bird watcher, but I am a “biker watcher.” And so are many of you — I’d bet money on it.

Guess this is a gathering of Gold Wing Road Riders. The other pic is the Riders feathery twins, the Red-billed Queleas.
Shame, really, that we don't see these, um, Indians too much anymore.

For example, when I attend Americade every year, I see literally hundreds of people, every day of the week-long affair, sitting in their lawn chairs alongside Canada Street, just watching the bikes go by. And haven’t we all done that, to one extent or another? How many thousands of us line the sidewalks of Main Street in Daytona every year, just to watch the constant parade of bikes go by? We may not use binoculars, because our quarry is much more approachable, but I’ll bet we take just as many pictures, and are just as excited as any avid birdwatcher when we spot a particularly rare species, like, say, a Vincent Black Shadow, or the ultra-rare AJS Porcupine.

So, carrying this analogy to its extreme—which is a favorite hobby of mine—if we are so much like birdwatchers, doesn’t it follow that our quarry are much like birds? I think just maybe I can make that argument. The closer I look at this, the more similarities I begin to see between birds and bikers. Don’t we both come in all shapes and sizes, and yet tend to flock together with our own kind? And do we not, within our own flocks, share similar nesting and feeding habits? Aren’t there some of us who follow migratory routes with the changes of season? And others who virtually hibernate in the winter? And aren’t most of us easily recognizable and categorized by our plumage?

Or, let’s try this another way. I offer the following comparisons of various species of both motorcyclists and birds, which are, to the best of my knowledge, almost entirely true:

Red-billed Queleas & Gold Wing Road Riders: Each one of the most abundant species on the planet, the Queleas/Wingers are known to flock together once or twice a year in giant gatherings of 10,000 to 20,000 at a time. During these gatherings, they have been known to scour the local countryside for food, eating up everything in sight.

Arctic Terns & Iron Butt Riders: Both have been known to travel more miles in a season than any other species, and for no apparent reason. They just seem to like to go.

New Zealand Kakapos & Straight-piped Harley Riders: Each of these is known for making more noise than any other species. The Kakapo’s booming bass call can be heard from as far as four miles away, and though it is supposedly meant to attract the opposite sex, more often than not, it seems it just frightens and annoys all the other animals in the vicinity.

Passenger Pigeons & Indian Riders: Once one of the most abundant species on the planet, now, for the most part, totally extinct.

Peregrine Falcons & Ducati Riders: Both are relatively small, and very light weight, mostly due to a frame (skeleton) made of a lattice-work of hollow tubes (bones). They fly (ride) very, very fast, and make almost unbelievably quick and violent changes of direction and speed. Unfortunately, they are also quite fragile, and have short lives.

Canadian Geese & American Gold Wingers: Each travels in large, tightly-structured groups, and in formation. They tend to follow pre-planned migratory routes, designed to afford them the best weather conditions possible, from one feeding ground to another.

Yep, we can see the correlation between these Macaws and major rally attendees.

Blue and Gold Macaws & Main Street Daytona or Sturgis Bikers: Rarely seen actually flying, they tend to find a prominent perch and remain there for days on end. Though no one knows for sure, their main purpose seems to be to display their magnificent plumage to all who pass by.

Blackbirds (Grackles) & Metric Cruisers: Common as dirt, especially in the Midwest, but still quite attractive. Almost always totally black in color, though sometimes dark shades of red or purple. They like to flock together, particularly where they can find ample supplies of grains like corn, oats and barley (those used to make beer and whiskey).

Hummingbirds & Two-stroke Pocket Bikes: Both species are very small and very quick, characterized by a weird, high-pitched buzzing noise. Colorful and exciting to watch as they dart about, they also burn out at a very young age.

Do these things run on flower pollen?

I have started my own version of a “birding book,” with pictures and notes from my sightings. Just this week I scored a Hairy-Chested Harley Dude, a Scarlet Ducati and a rare, original Tufted Triumph Triple. I’m in active search mode for a Humpbacked Hayabusa and the nearly-extinct Ivory CBX, and of course, always on the lookout for the ultra-elusive Green and Gold Water Buffalo.

"Unfortunately, they are also quite fragile, and have short lives." Sheesh! Hope Fred wasn't thinking of Pete when he wrote that?

I’ve learned a lot of things from birdwatchers in my quest, such as how to identify different species by their call or their plumage, or where best to find certain types. For example, the high mountain twisties in the early morning hours will usually yield a multitude of sportbike-types, but rarely any cruiser-types.

And for filling out your chapters on luxury tourers, you need only to set up your blind near a Dairy Queen on a warm Sunday afternoon. Saturday night at any seedy-looking bar will probably score you a bunch of different cruisers, and Sunday morning at the local racetrack will get you a load of weird, one-off hybrids, with things like purple windshields and day-glow orange wheels. Not very collectible, but definitely interesting and out of the norm.

I’m pretty sure I’ve invented an all-new pastime here. Just call me Fred Audubon.

Get in your Inbox