Off-season Trouble

Baby robins ready to ruin Angus's day
Baby robins ready to ruin Angus’s day

Angus, I think, continues to struggle with his off-season routine, or lack thereof. The combination of repeated, unsolicited, bad haircuts, bombardment with daily sessions of depressing bagpipe music (“Unjust Incarceration,” “Ronald MacDonald of Morar’s Lament,” “Too Long In This Condition”), unpredictable feeding times, boating, numerous nomadic sprinklers throughout our property (lifelong hose-hater), and – now – a robin family with extremely protective parents has left Angus off-kilter.

Earlier this week, four robin chicks fledged from their nest cradled in our DirectTV dish above the garage door, too early in my opinion. The fledglings displayed their weak aviation skills every time we walked outside, launching in serpentine flight patterns like a drunken balloons buffeted by the breeze. We could see their apparent destinations, our cringing increasing as their accuracy decreased such that they would miss their targets by wide margins. Striving to land on the shop roof, a baby robin collided with the wall two feet below the target and crashed straight to the ground 15 feet below. How many times can a baby bird’s little legs or organs handle that kind of impact? But it gets worse…

Pointing fish
Pointing fish

Yesterday I was out watering. Angus followed me as he likes to do. Heading back to the house I heard a sudden commotion of bird shrieks and turned to see two adult robins dive-bombing Angus, who was trying to juke his way between the sorties while carrying a screaming fledgling toward me in his mouth.

Angus: "September 21, come on!"
“September 21, come on!”

My response taught me something about my priorities. Despite how much I love bird hunting and marveling at Angus’s expertise as a bird dog, my instinctive shout at Angus to drop the baby bird trumped everything else. I didn’t want that baby bird’s blood on my hands. Hunting is blood sport. For me, yardwork ain’t hunting, and shouldn’t involve blood, mine or anything else’s. But how could I blame Angus for not knowing the difference? I suppose I could squabble over species differentiation, and how he should have known better than to go after a robin. But really you can’t expect him to know the difference, especially since baby robins aren’t much smaller than a quail.

So I yelled at him, implying his instincts were wrong and to drop the bird, stat. He complied, and was rewarded by more aggressive robin attacks, even as we fled in another direction. I tried to distract him to dilute his confusion by getting him to play chase. Mama and papa robin interfered in this, keeping close eyes on us despite moving far away.

Things calmed and I went on about my watering in another part of the yard on the other side of the house. Angus hovered, looking through the tall grass nearby. While moving a sprinkler, I noticed the robin parents following Angus. The next thing I know he’s got another baby bird in his mouth. I yelled, “NOOOOO!” He dropped the bird and ran toward me but didn’t see the sprinkler head between us and got nailed by the stream of water, causing him to bolt away. He stopped and looked at me as if to ask, “What next? Will the sky fall?” The poor boy. September 21 can’t come fast enough.

Finned waterbirds?
“I hate this.”

6 Replies to “Off-season Trouble”

  1. Good job, Bob…must be your upbringing. The mockingbirds must be nesting nearby, as I can tell where Ginger is outside by the scolding chatter. The other day, she comes racing inside through the open sliding door, & a mockingbird bangs into the glass! (Not too hard, as it turned & flew off). Good thing the door was not open wide, or we would have had a mockingbird in the house!

  2. That experience can be rough. My old shorthair who I grew into bird hunting with had the same habits. I got after him a few times one summer, as it disturbed my mother more than anything, and I never got a solid retrieve the following fall. As John said, a bird is a bird to them. Some dogs can weigh the difference in sport and home, others can’t. I hope Angus can (and I know he will cause I love him from afar through your blog) tell the difference. It’s just one of those lines that are made of sand, always moving.

    1. I didn’t realize how soul-touching it could be to have a quasi-stranger tell me he loves my dog (albeit from afar). Thanks for sharing that, Larry, and your experience. We’ll see about Angus’ retrieves in three months.

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