Dancing With Bank Swallows: A Bird Dog's Tale

In June of this year, after the bank swallows arrived and the seasonal area was closed, I was walking with a good friend who owns three Vizslas, aged 6 months, 6 years, and 11 years. I own a Vizsla as well, Reba, who is 3 years old. Vizslas are hunting dogs bred specifically to point and retrieve game birds. My friend's three dogs have all competed in field trials and have proven themselves to be excellent bird dogs. My dog, while not trained as a hunter and a coach potato at heart, does possess a basic instinct for hunting and has chased pigeons and ravens. The four dogs are good pals and were running off-leash together in the field to the east of the hang glider garage. It was about 5pm in the evening, and as is usually the case in that area of Fort Funston at that hour, my friend and I watched a group of bank swallows swoop and dart all around us. I knew they were bank swallows because I could both see the distinctive white belly of the little birds and the ring around their necks. There was also another species of swallow in the area, but this bird was bigger, had a turquoise body, and flew very differently from the bank swallows. What was particularly delightful about this encounter with the bank swallows was that each of the four dogs was being "pursued" by at least one swallow. As the dogs sniffed and explored patches of ice plants and shrubs (there were no native plants in this particular area), bank swallows would dive and dart right behind them. It really looked like the birds were using the dogs to flush out insects for them to eat. The irony made my friend and I laugh: here were four bird dogs completely uninterested in swallows that were flying within feet of their heads, and here were the swallows, using trained hunting dogs to flush out game for them.

by Linda Shore, July 21, 2000

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