Bird dog is not a term commonly used in UK. Dogs used for hunting are generally known as gun dogs, a term which brings to (my) mind a vision of a retriever holding a shot gun. A bird dog, particularly in the Southern USA, is a dog trained to flush, hunt or retrieve game that has been shot.
However, we may have discovered a different type of bird dog. Strictly speaking, it shares few of the physical characteristics of canines but can be
trained encouraged to retrieve.
Master of Hounds?
We usually carry dog biscuits – as rewards or distractions or for training – and the bird dogs have observed this. For many years we have noticed them watching closely, particularly near water, and collecting treats that our own dogs have omitted to pick up.
In recent months a pair of bird dogs has been following us soon after we begin our walk. They have excellent eyesight and keep us in view from a safe distance. They are not domesticated and are wary of humans and dogs but associate them – or, at least, us – with food. It may not be the food that you or I would choose to consume (although as a child I enjoyed the smell and taste of dog biscuits) but the wild bird dogs are less discerning in their habits and will eat almost anything, alive, dead, fresh or decomposing. They are omnivores – one might even call them obligate omnivores – and they look well on their diet, bright-eyed and wearing glossy coats.
Today, the bird dogs, a mating pair – they mate for life – met us early in our walk and followed us up the hill, past three ponds to the big pond at the top. They waited patiently, calling to each other, as we watched a couple of deer, well camouflaged in the sere grasses and leafless saplings of winter.
Can you see the deer in this photo? In fact, I've just realised there are two.
Any clearer now? There's one dead centre and
another smaller one bottom right.
In this photo there are three deer, left, right and centre.
Eventually they were rewarded. The dogs plunged into the water, Jenna and Gus chasing the Aqua Kong and Frodo and Bertie retrieving biscuits. When they emerged the bird dogs stood at the edge furthest from us, watching and biding their time. Then they swooped over the water, because of course they’re birds, not dogs, and snatched the biscuits in their beaks, one at a time.
Waiting, maybe admiring their reflections
This one has successfully grabbed a biscuit
Its mate has also succeeded
We dub them bird dogs because they follow us and ‘fetch’ biscuits. We suspect that other people have observed their characteristics and, equally fascinated, have taken to throwing titbits for them to pick up. They followed us at a discreet distance all the way back, almost to the car, sometimes flying up to perch on branches, sometimes waddling along behind us on the track, watching and hoping for more treats.
Following us back to the car
Carrion crows are very intelligent and my admiration for them grows. The following video clips demonstrate their determination and their ability to solve problems. The first clip will not endear them, I’m afraid, but the second is impressive.