by Zoe Deen
Alexei is having an exciting Spring. Young, inexperienced birds are leaving the nest, and true to his Airedale Terrier genes Alexei is on the hunt. Reader assurance–no birds have been harmed to date. They have been shaken up. They have been in shock. But they have been unhurt.
I first realized Alexei had discovered a new vocation a few days ago. He came prancing into the kitchen where I was tidying up after breakfast so excited that his feet barely made contact with the floor. He danced around me, and then dashed down the short hall toward the dining room. Then he dashed back and danced around me again. Obviously, he had something exciting he wanted to share with me. I followed him, and my heart dropped. A bird–a young cactus wren, I think–was cowering in the corner of the dining room. I felt ill. I did not believe the bird could be uninjured, and I dreaded having to deal with that. I couldn’t, I knew, let the poor thing suffer. I doubted that I could kill the poor thing. Let me note that I swat flies and mosquitoes without thought, but anything bigger–especially something as helpless and harmless as a baby bird–is too much.
I ordered Alexei to his crate. He went the third time I gave the order, and I locked him in before going to see how badly injured the bird was. I was thinking I had heard about a bird rescue place somewhere nearby, but I couldn’t remember the details. I remembered the nestlings my children had brought home. Tiny little birds that had fallen out of their nest–or been blown out during a storm. I had successfully raised those little guys, but they had been uninjured. The veterinarian who took care of our dogs told me the baby birds would thrive on dry dog food soaked in water until it became mush. The first day or two, I had to thin the mush enough to use an eye dropper to get it into their mouths, but they quickly got the hang of it and opened their beaks eagerly any time I came near the bird cage.
But they were not hurt, I thought, looking at the wet, rumpled feathers of the little bird scrunched into the corner. For a little guy, it had a long sharp looking beak. I would understand perfectly if it tried to defend itself–but that beak looked like it could easily draw blood. I leaned down and picked it up. It was amazingly light–almost weightless. It made no effort to peck me, but it did make a heartrending little peep. Oh, I did not want to deal with this, I thought, as Alexei made his opinion known from his crate in the bedroom. It was massively unfair of me to lock him up while I played with the great new toy he had found by myself. Not at all the sort of injustice he expected of me.
I had mixed feelings about Alexei just then. I knew he was a dog–of a breed specifically breed to be a hunter. It wasn’t bad or wrong for him to follow his instincts, but I didn’t want my best buddy to have the blood of an innocent on his paws, or more to the point on his muzzle.
Things got better from there. I checked wings and legs, and they seemed all right. There was no blood. When I smoothed the feathers that were at odd angles, everything went back into place easily. It seemed the bird was damp from being in Alexie’s mouth, but alright. So, I took him out onto the patio and set on the low wall around the patio. It took him about ten minutes to get over his shock and fly away, but he did fly.
I let poor Alexei out of his crate. He dashed to the dining room, directly to the corner where the bird had been. No bird. Accusing look. Then the hunt began. Alexei checked the top of the dining table. He checked the kitchen counters. He checked my pockets just to be sure I hadn’t hidden the bird there. He searched the house intermittently for the next four or five hours. I guess it was incomprehensible to him that I would have let the bird to.
Each time Alexei went searching for the bird I felt relieved again that all had ended well. I was very happy that the bird had been undamaged. I was relieved that I wasn’t nursing a baby bird back to health, and not just because it would be a bother. I remembered that after two or three years of raising baby birds my children had rescued, I realized that raising a bird in a household that included three dogs and a cat did not prepare birds for the real world–it made them easy prey for the neighbor’s cat. I don’t have a cat now, but I have Alexei–and the area is full of coyotes. Also bobcats, javalina, snakes, and the occasional mountain lion.
So all was well for a couple of days, and then I noticed that Alexei was intent on something under a bush in the backyard. I went to check. And yes it was another young bird, cowering in the corner of the fence behind the bush. I told Alexei to, “LEAVE IT!”
Same old, same old from Alexei’s perspective. He got locked in his crate while I examined the new bird. It wasn’t as wet and rumpled as the first one. Apparently he had just sniffed and licked it a little. I picked up the terrified bird, set it on the low wall, and again waited to see if the bird would fly. After several minutes, it did. Perhaps it was wiser, but maybe not.
I don’t think it was the same bird–but it was the same kind of bird–that Alexei trapped under some vines that grow against the house. Rather than seeing the vines as an impediment, he had realized that by standing on the ends of the vines he could use them to hold the bird in place.
Alexei did a double take. He looked at the bird. He looked at me. It was apparent that he was having serious doubts about me as a hunting partner. I ordered him to his crate, and he went on the first command–though with a heavy sigh and a sad look at me. He was realizing I was no fun, no fun at all.
This bird had had only a brief encounter with Alexei. It flew in a matter of moments.
I don’t know. Maybe Alexei would not hurt any of his new little buddies. Maybe he does just want to be friends with the little creatures, but it is to chancy for the birds to try the experiment. Even I he doesn’t mean to hurt them, it is all too likely that there would be an accident.
Poor Alexei. It is going to be rough for him until the last of this year’s young birds learn enough to stay out of his reach.