I have recently discovered the, in my view, rather splendid song Guitar Town by Steve Earle (released 1986). It contains the following lyric:

Hey pretty baby are you ready for me,
It's your good rockin' daddy down from Tennessee.
I'm just out of Austin bound for San Antone
With the radio blastin' and a bird-dog on

Wise words, for sure, but this small town middle-class boy from the UK does not understand what it means to "have your bird-dog on"!

I have searched Urban Dictionary and other sources located through Google, and they all tell me a "bird-dog" is a man who chases other men's women, or sometimes just a man who chases any women. None of those explanations seem to fit with Steve Earle's meaning in Guitar Town. Unless he means that he is in the mood for chasing women, but the rest of the song is about driving from town to town putting on shows...

See also http://youtu.be/otTW0JczoGQ at around 0:19

7 Answers 7


According to Wikipedia, bird-dog:

  • A bird dog can be noun which means a radar detector.(Taken from Urban dictionary) Example from Steve Earle's song "Guitar Town": "I'm just out of Austin bound for San Antone With the radio blasting and the bird dog on"

Bird dog: radar detector

( from www.radardetector.net)

  • 1
    Sweet. Thanks. I must admit I only skim-read Wiki and UD and I completely missed that.
    – Marv Mills
    Dec 19, 2014 at 22:13
  • 3
    You blokes are not old enough to remember the Everly Brothers Hey bird dog get away from my quail. They certainly didn't have radar-detectors in the late 1950s. I always took it to mean what Mrav thought it meant - i.e. a fellow who chases another fellow's 'bird'. I feel sure that Elvis also sang about a bird-dog too, but I can't remember the song. Try this link. Marv is right. youtube.com/watch?v=I65PxlOlHA4
    – WS2
    Dec 19, 2014 at 22:23
  • @WS2 that song was out 4 years before I was born, though I have heard it over the years. But I have it playing as I type this, and it's great - "He's a daaawg!"
    – Marv Mills
    Dec 19, 2014 at 23:01

The Bird Dog was a local radio DJ in Austin area of Texas. I asked Steve Earle this very same question a few years back in Perth Scotland.

  • This doesn't seem to answer the question: if anything, it's an "I'm having this problem too" comment. Dec 26, 2014 at 10:51
  • 3
    Welcome to English Language & Usage @Jimmy. Unlike the earlier commentators, I think think this does answer the question, just not very well. Check out the Help center to see how to write a strong answer. Your post would be improved if it included a reference to support your assertion, and you made more effort to explicitly address the question asked.
    – user63230
    Dec 27, 2014 at 11:42

Ok, life long Tennessee boy here. While radar detectors are no longer worth anything because of laser technology. When this song came out everyone had one. Yes, I have heard them called bird dogs by truckers especially. Everyone I knew had one when I was younger. They were not much count unless you were on the interstate because the damn things would go off every time you passed a set of automatic doors.


A “bird dog” on a plane is a radio directional finder. It is (or was) used to navigate, especially to find land when over the ocean or other large bodies of water.

It was repeatedly mentioned in an episode of “Quantum Leap” called “Ghost Ship” in 1992. They were flying through the Bermuda Triangle, and the bird dog was their only means of navigating when other instruments went crazy.

Obviously, that doesn’t apply here, unless he was homing in on a radio station in Austin, Texas (i.e., the signal was getting stronger as he got closer to the city).


a Bird Dog Radio Direction Finder Meter by Aircraft Specialty Lines (https://i.stack.imgur.com/YbFDh.jpg)! (https://i.stack.imgur.com/6Kovn.jpg)


The below Urban dictionary entry makes clear the meaning 'of a guy who is primarily interested in romancing another fellow's girl' - with strong reference to the Everly Brothers' song of that name:

Hey bird dog, lay off of my quail,

Hey, bird dog, go chase your own tail

See entry: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bird%20dog

Bird dog is also a term used in American football for a player who stares down an opponent in the way a dog stares out a bird.

  • 1
    Yeah I got that @WS2, but that was made me post the question, that definition doesn't fit at all well with the jist of the Guitar Town lyric, hence I realised it must have some other meaning not mentioned on UD...
    – Marv Mills
    Dec 19, 2014 at 23:34

Bird dog as I know it refers to the radio disc jockey show of the era.

Radio blasting and the BIRD DOG (Disc Jockey) show is on his radio,

They way I see it as an American listening to the song, besides that's what Steve said.

  • 1
    That answer has already been given.
    – Chenmunka
    Apr 27, 2017 at 12:17

The first four lines of "Guitar Town" are: " Hey pretty baby are you ready for me It's your good rockin' daddy down from Tennessee I'm just out of Austin bound for San Antone With the radio blastin' and the bird dog on "

The very next two lines of are: " There's a speed trap up ahead in Selma Town But no local yokel gonna shut me down ".

It's very clear from this context that Steve's "bird dog" slang means radar detector. Dan in Montreal PS I was in Grade 11 in Toronto when the Everly Brothers "Bird Dog" went #1. PPS In no time!!!

  • That doesn't make it clear that "bird dog" means radar detector. That's just one interpretation.
    – herisson
    Dec 8, 2018 at 3:33
  • 1
    There is already an accepted answer giving this "radar detector" solution. Dec 8, 2018 at 4:16
  • Steve writes in the 4th line of the song that he has "the bird dog on". Dec 8, 2018 at 7:01
  • 2
    Steve writes in the 4th line of the song that he has "the bird dog on". In the very next two lines he writes "There's a speed trap up ahead in Selma Town" and then " But no local yokel gonna shut me down ", meaning that he won't get caught in the speed trap in "Selma Town" by some state trooper because he has his radar-detector on. That is my final comment on this excruciatingly obvious subject. Dan in Montreal Dec 8, 2018 at 7:05

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