I no longer remember which of our sons first came up with the idea that birds that flew too close to a moving car, or landed on the roadway in front of one, were actually playing some kind of daring game for which they could score points. It could have been either of them, but it was Leif who wrote it down.
This is a piece he wrote at the beginning of his senior year in high school for a creative writing class he was taking. He had just moved from Puerto Rico to Kansas a month earlier. At that time, he was going by the nickname "Alex."
August 30 1990
Have you ever noticed how birds seem to fly aimlessly in circles, then land right in front in front of your car, waiting till the last minute before flying desperately to safety at the side of the road? Well, what we humans had previously mistaken for stupidity on the part of the birds is actually a daring form of entertainment and competition, a sport if you will. Those members of the avian society that are able and willing to put their life on the line for the sake of competition and the will to be the best, and get good at it, can acquire an elite status that is unparalleled by any other member of their society.
Upon further examination, professional surfer and part time zoologist, Prof. John "Rip Curl" Farnsworth made some very interesting observations. After Winning the "Off-Shore Pipeline Masters" competition in Waimea on the north shore of Oahu, he came to Puerto Rico to relax and check out the local surf scene. He quickly discovered this unusual behavior exhibited by the birds. He initiated a study, conducted by himself in conjunction with the university, and came up with some fascinating results.
His thesis states that the sport originated among a group of beach-dwelling pigeons that admired the grace and daring that was evident in the local surfer. Realizing that it would be rather difficult for a pigeon to surf, they created "car dodging," making it as similar to surfing as possible using wings instead of boards.
The technique is similar to surfing in some respects and different in others. When surfing you would paddle out into the surf and wait for a wave, as when dodging cars you would fly out into traffic and wait for the right car. They would stand still trying to look as if they are totally oblivious to the fact that a stream of huge metal Behemoths is approaching. At the last possible second they would fly to safety and receive their scores.
As surfers are grateful that nature has provided them with these beautiful crests to ride, so are the birds grateful to us for providing them with cars to dodge. However, not every wave or car is perfect, so the first criteria for judgement of a competition is wave selection or car selection. Naturally a surfer can't pull a great ride if he's not riding a great wave, and likewise a bird cannot attempt a death-defying dodge if there is no death to defy.
Scoring ranges from the minimum standard being an 80 year-old grandmother driving a Yugo, to an irresponsible teenager in his father's Corvette, to a crazed, psychotic, homocidal maniac that has recently escaped from an asylum for the criminally insane speeding down a narrow road at 135 mph in a stolen 18 wheel semi truck.
The second criteria is the length of a ride, or how long you wait before dodging. Third is style. This is a very important aspect that requires some acting ability, but not much. You must either look petrified with fear or cool and reserved depending on the rules of that particular compo.
Fourth and most important is the difficulty of the tricks, such as going over the top, around, or for the truly daring/insane, going under and hoping that the air turbulence doesn't force you under the wheels.
The reason for all of this puzzled Prof. "Rip Curl" for some time but he then realized that the motivation was the same as any other sport, to get a thrill. Some may say that this is a stupid way to get thrill but you must take into account that the average brain volume of a bird is approximately 1/30 of ours. Besides the pure thrill there is the prestige and the status of being one of the "dodgers". The "dodgers" are the elite in the avian community unlike the surfers who are generally stereotyped and dismissed as "brainless morons" by the older generations.
Another dominant motivation is to gain the admiration of the opposite sex, or as a surfer might say, "to land some boku babes" (the terminology and expressions used by the birds in completely unintelligible).
Prof. Farnsworth's research hopes to shed new light on the misconception that plagues not only Puerto Rico but the whole world. He has shown us not only that this behavior has a purpose but that if we see a bird on the road they want us to try to hit them, and also that while surfing is open to anybody with access to a beach, car dodging is strictly for the birds.
The photo of Leif with all these fairly tame pigeons was taken in Kamakura, Japan in May 1981 when he was six years old.