Strutters have quite a screech

The screechers are birds of an entirely different feather, so to speak.

Difficult for some reason to see this summer, their call is present and easily identified for I have known the killdeer for many, many years – on both coasts including the one to the far west.

Here – generally – they flock to the lake shore, sometimes meeting in large colonies, otherwise living their days in, as far as I can tell, total peace. It isn’t always so.

One time, my then retriever and I were walking the distant edge of a huge gravelly lot used for parking during the ski season. Now it was deserted and full of weeds, especially along its edges. As the dog and I walked we attracted the attention of three or four separate killdeer who, springing into protective action, began to do “their thing.”

Landing seven or eight feet in front of us, they would strut seeking to gain attention. This group had apparently not heard that a limp is supposed to be a crucial part of the act. Not that it would have mattered for the retriever is accustomed to living with birds and so saw nothing unusual with the ones who paraded before him. Oblivious, he could as well have been completely blind. Happily he trotted along, doing his own thing while the birds congregated to discuss their total lack of effectiveness.

I knew it wasn’t always the case. Many years ago (decades, if one really wants to count) my family stopped to let a different retriever out of the car for a run. She was returning from a presentable showing in a large West Coast dog show with another scheduled for the following day. By chance the spot we picked had long ago been an air strip, the concrete runway now just barely discernible.

Penny immediately attracted the attention of a killdeer nesting nearby. This retriever (not nearly as bright as the ones who followed) took up the chase at once. Back and forth the two of them went, from one end of the strip to the other, the dog, tail wagging deliriously, happy to chase as the bird hopped and limped, always just out of reach. We (not nearly so bright) delighted in what was obviously effortless exercise on our part for a dog who had been penned or in the car for one very long day.

I have no idea how long this activity continued or how much longer it might have gone on. I can tell you it was stopped immediately once I noticed the red spots now appearing in regular formation along the stretch of concrete.

The dog had worn the pads off her feet.

We returned to the car sadder but wiser, also realizing that we too had allowed ourselves to be tricked by the maternal instincts of the killdeer. A special bird.

And a striking bird with its double black neck bands across its white neck and chest. Calling its own name, it is fairly common and easy to spot since it apparently considers itself invincible.

Penny was also a special retriever whose dog show career ended that very day.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts released in June. Copies are available at Papaya Arts on the Boardwalk in Dunkirk and the Cassadaga ShurFine. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author can be found at