For the Birds Radio Program: Roller Blading Birder

Original Air Date: July 17, 1995

How many birds can you identify on roller blades? (3:52) Date verified.

Audio missing


Keeping lists is a compulsion for most birders, and I’m one of the worst. There’s my life list of course—that’ s the list of all the birds I’ve ever seen in the wild. Like many serious birders, I also keep track of the birds I see in each state, and every January first I start a new year list. I keep county lists in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and lists of birds seen in special places—like Port Wing, my backyard, and Picnic Point, a little park I birded most days when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin.

Those are all pretty normal lists. Things start getting weirder with my car list—I keep track of all the birds seen from my little car Scarlett. I’ve long kept a list of the birds I see along interstate highways. I also keep count of every bird I’ve seen through my Zeiss binoculars, and when I save up enough money to finally get the optical equipment of my dreams—a Kowa TSN-4 spotting scope, I’ll keep a list of all the birds I see through that—the best thing about a Kowa scope is that every time you see a new bird through it, you get to yell “Kowabunga!”

I count all the birds heard or seen on non-nature TV programs, with a special list for birds heard on the background of commercials—like the Mourning Warbler that sings on a Weyerhauser commercial, or the Red-winged Blackbird featured on a Folger’s Coffee commercial. Some people think my weirdest list is my mating list—that is, all the birds I’ve ever caught in a romantic act. Other people think the hands down weirdest list I keep has to the one of wild birds whose droppings have landed on me. Oddly, I still don’t have either a pigeon or a Ring-billed Gull on that list, but I do have Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Pileated Woodpecker. That list mainly requires me to be in the right place at the right time— or perhaps the wrong time—it’s apparently a matter of point of view.

Last week I started a brand new list—birds I’ve seen or heard while roller blading. I’ve been cruising at low speed along the Willard Munger trail in Duluth, and the trail runs through some lovely bird habitat. Veeries sing their ethereal song just a few feet from the pavement; Red-eyed Vireos preach their monotonous sermons from the treetops; Song Sparrows live up to their name all over the place. It’s quiet enough most days that I can hear the soft buzz of Clay-colored Sparrows at the beginning of the trail. The trail goes through some pretty nice woods, and the bird I’m most hoping to see or hear next is a Scarlet Tanager.

Roller blading isn’t a typical birding activity—especially when you’re as unsteady as me. I’m too afraid of falling to wear my binoculars, and since I still haven’t mastered stopping, even when a good bird sings, I keep going. But as soon as I filter out the rhythmic whoosh of my wheels, I hear plenty of birds, and occasionally see some—mostly robins—as I roll past.

By this time in July, birds aren’t singing as much as they did in June—those lustfully tuneful mornings have given way to long days of baby feeding and nest cleaning. But not all self­ expression has been squelched by parental responsibility—males take a moment here and there to sing about love and property and spring days gone by. And I’m listening as I roller blade past, perhaps evidence that parental duties do eventually subside, and as our children fledge, we can bust out again and play the games of our youth.