For the Birds Radio Program: World of Wheels

Original Air Date: Aug. 26, 1994

Who but Laura Erickson would look for, and find, birds in a roller rink? 4:29 (Date confirmed)

Audio missing


In August, birds quiet down for the year. Avian testosterone levels ebb with decreasing day length, and, for birds, when romance is over, singing is pointless. Even for goldfinches, who don’t breed until thistles ripen in July and August, the honeymoon is over. They sang passionately during their spring quest for love, but now couples are settled, and baby-making perfunctory and anti-climactic. Robins and Red-eyed Vireos sing once in a while, but late summer songs lack the spirit and passion that made their spring songs so vital and engaging.

When I miss the joyful exuberance of birds a-courting, I bring my kids to the next best thing, the World of Wheels skating rink.

You don’t see many birds at World of Wheels, just starlings, House Sparrows, and gulls in the parking lot. The smallest skates available for rental are way too big for even a Blue-footed Booby or pelican. But when the season closes on the graceful sky dance of woodcocks and the jolly swooping of ravens in boisterous mating displays, World of Wheels is a fine substitute.

Today, for example, three teen-aged boys skated to the music of M.C. Hammer, and the blood coursing through their veins was as testosterone-laden as any red-blooded American Robin bursting with song of a June morning. Two wore black No Fear t-shirts, the kind an American Crow would wear if crows wore t-shirts, and skated with that brazen, aggressive grace associated with teenage boys and crows. The third boy was quiet and shy, rather a Black-throated Blue Warbler type. All three did fancy stunts, trying to impress two pretty teenage girls who had brought their little sisters to the afternoon skate. The crows strutted and showed their stuff under garish disco lights while the shy boy darted and weaved in and out among the skaters like a warbler within thick foliage, glimpsing at one girl furtively while avoiding the aggressive crows. The objects of attention, like hen woodcocks, were too embarrassed to actually watch the display, but their six-year-old sisters were smitten.

When a crow approached, one of the little ones, a spry and athletic hummingbird, did three amazing cartwheels and then the splits on her skates, just to win his praise, but he was staring too hard at her big sister to notice. The quiet boy, an employee at World of Wheels, dutifully encouraged some younger kids, and a kind word to the six-year-old won him the attention of her big sister, though like most shy teenage boys, he seemed more comfortable with little kids than with teenage girls.

For teenagers, a skating 42-year-old woman is as odd and unexpected as a skating bird. But, just like young crows, all three boys were respectful, and even a bit solicitous, toward their elders. The girls studiedly ignored their antics, leaving me and the six-year-olds as their only audience, and my thumbs ups elicited awkward smiles. Crows may resent when their rap and hard rock songs are alternated with the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons–old lady music–but these three didn’t complain.

When my eight-year-old Tommy tripped on a piece of candy and started a chain reaction, I was the one they rescued, though I suspect that if a teenage girl had been among the fallen, I’d have been on the floor a bit longer. Of course, they couldn’t actually talk to me in front of the girls–both teenagers and crows have a reputation to live up to. But I left World of Wheels with the same satisfied feeling I get on a spring morning filled with birdsong–the feeling that overall, this green earth is a mighty fine place to be.