October 25th, 2022 by georgann

I don’t consider myself to be a risk-taker.  I assume that a high-risk personality type is probably genetic, and I have never observed my parents taking chances.  As a teenage, I remember my mother threatening me with a terrible death if I so much as looked at a motorcycle, let alone ride one.  So, ten years ago when I stood in our driveway watching my 73-year-old mother riding down the street on the back of my husband’s Harley-Davidson, I was suddenly freed from my childhood images of torture.  A whole new world of transportation was opened to me that day.

I have since found that while cruising along the highways and byways of the north Georgia mountains, I could do some interesting birding.  Of course, we hardly sneak up on the little guys.  But through many hours of observations, I have discovered that birds can be divided into two major categories when it comes to the roar of a Harley.  There are linebirds and flybirds. 

Linebirds perch on power lines and fences.  Flyingbirds are flying.  Linebirds often evolve suddenly into flyingbirds when approached by our motorcycle.  Flyingbirds never become linebirds around us.  Instead, they usually turn sharply in mid-stroke and race in the opposite direction from whence they came.

What I have found to be most noteworthy is the phenomenon that some linebirds remain unruffled and unmoved by the approaching thunder on wheels.  What factors determine whether a linebird flinches?  After years of intense research, I have determined that the time of day, the height of the line and the size of the bird all make a difference.

Early morning and late evening linebirds do not fly away nearly as easily as midday linebirds.  I can only hypothesize as to why.  Early morning linebirds are not awake enough to determine if the terrible noise is really dangerous or simply a thunderstorm.  By the time they remember that sunrise thunderstorms are indeed rare, we have scooted past them. 

Late evening birds do not fly away because they are tired.  After all, they have been flying away from danger all day, and if this one last, carelessly loud predator wants to eat them, so be it.

The higher the powerline, the less likely the linebird is to fly away.  High urban linebirds fly away even less often than high rural linebirds.  In fact, most high or low urban linebirds such as mourning doves, rock doves, European starlings, and house sparrows hold their ground more often than their rural counterparts.  Habituation to cars, buses, trucks and even motorcycles must be an acquired behavior that these urban birds share.

Large birds like belted kingfishers, American crows, red-tailed hawks, and turkey vultures are also more tolerant of motorcycles.  They will occasionally fly directly overhead, oblivious to the small and temporary commotion below them.  However, wild turkeys are an exception to this bigger-is-better mentality.  On bright sunny day, two turkeys scampered across the road in front of us.  Their frantic eyes were the size of dinner plates and their feet spun as in the roadrunner cartoon.  Little did they know that we had no intention of getting turkey feathers on our new ElectraGlide.

It requires years of experience to correctly identify Harleybirds.  Provided they stay long enough, low linebirds such as northern cardinals, indigo buntings, northern mockingbirds and eastern meadowlarks are by far the easiest species to recognize.

High linebirds are the most challenging to identify.  They present tiny, blurred, but stationary dots of eastern kingbirds, swallows, and robins.  I would hate to stake my reputation on some of the educated guesses that I have made about them.  Harleybirding is certainly not for compulsive birders who must be able to place a name on every bird sighted.  My most fervent desire while riding is to have a small pair of binoculars that would slip down over my visor instantly enlarging and focusing on these distant blurs.

In spite of its sporadic difficulties, Harleybirding can be quite useful in mapping the distribution and occurrence of north Georgia birds.  Ironically, the most abundant bird is rarely seen.  Our noses warn us of their presence–chickens.  North Georgia is replete with odiferous poultry farms.  Next to road kills, those foul fowl can really knock your tattoos off.

More encouraging is the discovery that eastern bluebirds are a close second to chickens in occurrence.  Nearly every farm, country road, and front yard has at least two bluebirds.  Once I even saw a flying-bluebird become a linebird; rushing to perch on a power line as if to greet us.  This raises the question of whether bluebirds secretly covet owning a Harley-Davidson.

I am often asked (once in 1989) what has been the most exciting bird seen while Harleybirding.  It takes me but a second to remember an August twilight, with the sun setting and the air turning cool.  Suddenly there was one, then two, then hundreds and finally thousands of common nighthawks darting and twisting for insects just barely above my head.  The rising heat from the pavement was saturated with insects that the birds were feasting upon.

I often wonder if other bikers notice any of the birds surrounding them?  The possibilities of motorcycle birding are as endless as the roads we travel.  Around every corner, over each hill, birds are waiting for (or flying away from) us.  Even if all the linebirds have become flyingbirds, there is still the stunning beauty of the gentle rolling mountains, the majesty of stately trees and the endlessness of countless wildflowers.  In fact, the wildflowers growing along the roads are nearly as intriguing as the linebirds sitting above them.  And wildflowers don’t fly away.  Let’s see, Harley-wildflowering….

Birding Adventures, Inc.

Georgann Schmalz



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