The following is an excerpt from a collection of essays about raising guinea fowl.
New Guinea Hens - Lost and Found, June 2021
After major losses of our adult guineas over the winter - started with 28, down to 13 — six were added to the flock in a pair of Royal Purples, Violets and Lavenders. They were refreshing to look at amongst our sea of Pearl Grey’s.
Five days after putting them in their own section of the coop, they began pecking on each other so we set them free. It’s always a crapshoot – letting newbies out for the first time. How will the other guineas treat them? What will they do? Will they scatter and tree roost? Do they sufficiently know the coop as home and safety?
By first dusk, only the Royal Purple pair returned to the coop. We had heard a few cars honking on the road above us, which was usually to move the guineas, but I checked and found no bodies, so who knows where they went. I asked the dogs to find them and they stared into the woods. Before long, a whoop of wings heralded one of the Lavenders return, landing on the coop roof. Then the dogs disappeared for a while. When they returned it was already dark. It did not look good for the missing three as I closed the coop, keeping the Royals safe and hoping the Lavender would stay on the roof and be protected by the dogs vigilance during their night prowl.
Crossing the lawn to say goodnight to the dogs, I patted Wabi and began walking toward Sabi when I nearly tripped on the Violet guinea, crouched halfway between the boys. It was wet, somewhat feather plucked, but alive! How did it get here? Why was it just sitting there? Guineas don’t see well at night which makes them perfect prey. From its condition, I wondered if the dogs had chased it along the lakefront but then how did it get up the hill to the front lawn? Did they chase it up? Delivering it to me? I will never know for sure.
The dogs sat quietly as I wrapped the guinea in a towel to blot wet feathers and walked it to the coop to join the Royals. The other two remained at large, but any search would have to wait for morning’s light.
The 6AM screeching by the coop was promising and yes indeed, the missing violet guinea was in the tree, making a racquet with the solo lavender. The Violet’s partner was now dry and rested - hanging in the tower roost with the Pearl Grey guineas. It was surprising to see it with them. She either found her way quickly or they were holding her captive. Ya never know.
That left one missing Lavender guinea. I knew I would have to do a woods walkabout to find any remains and had dressed accordingly. After dispensing morning scratch and water duties, I gave each dog a fresh egg from the coop (hens were still laying but I stopped incubating) before we took off to find the missing bird.
It didn’t take long. Down the hill to the lake’s edge, Wabi walked through the high water then stopped, staring at the embankment where Sabi and I stood. Sabi edged closer, looking over it. So I did too, peeking over the rock ledge and bingo, there it was! A wet, weary but alive lavender guinea crouched just above the water line, body tight to the bank. Stepping down into the water, I snatched her up before she could flee, tucked her under my arm and up the hill we all paraded for a towel blot and reunion with her mates. What a relief to have all six safe and sound!
To the dogs I owe thanks for this happy outcome. They are so impressive in understanding my requests. But me thinks I must add they are not to pluck at the bird’s feathers (their favorite pastime) - as it must be rather traumatizing for the guineas. Do you think they will listen? One can only hope.
Prodigal Birds, July 6 & 14 2021
As my newly purchased six adult guineas discovered their way on the property, they had to contend with the ten Pearl Grey homeys who excluded the pretty newbies from their flock, driving them to explore the left side of the property which abuts a public wilderness – a pathway for predators.
In the first week, one Lavender and one Violet did not return to the coop at night. The next day when they had not returned for scratch, I asked the dogs to find whatever remains existed. They led me to a spot not too far into the woods were two circles of feathers lay on the ground. Most often there are feather circles marking those sad spots, indicating a surprise attack and tussle before the prize is carted away and feasted upon. And as always, I gather what feathers I can for posterity.
The four remaining newbies (Lavender, Violet and 2 Royal Purples) hung close to the coop for the next two days but didn’t return at third dusk nor any other day following. Four of them in the woods was a bad situation but we had guests arriving so it took me a week before I could search.
Once again the dogs led me, past the original feather circles and deeper into the woods. I clambered down boulders and around daggers of branches, deeper and deeper until we came upon a mini grove defined by a lush footing of deep, wavy emerald green grass that cushioned each step. It was breathtaking and startling in its beauty. I looked at the cluster of young trees where the Royal Purple guineas must have roosted before the attacker scattered their feathers over that grass. Oddly, the feathers were not in neat circles like the others, but a flurry over this magical oasis within the jagged woods. As I gathered up the memory feathers, I could see why they would nest there. It was serene and hushed among the rough surrounding forest. Sigh. A guinea’s life is short when opting for the tree roost in these woods.
“OK boys,” I spoke with the dogs, “Now, where are the Lavender and Violet?” We were deeper in the woods than I had ever walked, weaving around and under thick, poky branches. The dogs kept looking but with no luck and finally I gave up, heading home on an upper path, canvasing every direction for another patch of feathers, but nothing was found.
So imagine our surprise a week later when Mr. Lavender shows up, alive and well but alone. His Violet must have met her demise and since there was nowhere else to go, to the coop he returned. I guess risking the wrath of the Pearl Greys was better than wandering alone. Guineas are a tribal bird.
His return was not easy. The original tribe is an unwelcoming bunch. Sadly, we watched Lavender tag along at a distance behind them, as they foraged the property, mostly keeping to himself. My heart ached for him.
Another week goes by.
Then there is a posting on the community Facebook page about a guinea showing up at a woman’s house about 8 miles from us. As I am looking at the posting, my phone rings and the same woman asked: “Could it be yours?’ She had found my number from the resort above us. As I have “Goofy Guinea Crossing” signs on the road, people know where the mad guinea lady lives. She described it as a pearl grey. Though I had lost a couple of nesting females recently, I doubted mine could make that distance which was over the lake and well across the mountain. Nevertheless, we suited up with nets and guiding sticks and found the hen tucked under a bush by the house. I made my daily call to it. “guinea, guinea, guinea gooood.” Her lack of reaction confirmed it was not mine. In the meantime, another area guinea owner was identified who had recently lost two hens and a cock. Her home was much closer to this site so we left it to her to try and retrieve the skittish bird.
And that was that. Until it wasn’t.
Two days later the dogs start barking as a rugged outdoorsy type man walks down our driveway. “Mam” he called out, “I left my truck up top so as not to disturb you but I hear you have guineas.” The dogs eyed him suspiciously as he continued. “You missing a guinea? One showed up at my property and my chickens are real upset.” He explained he lived along the White River, near the 62 bridge. As a bird flies, that would be 4-6 miles away. “Do you want the bird?” he asked. I suspected it was the other lady’s bird, not able to imagine any of my birds travelling that far. Although they can run up to 30 mile an hour, and fly in sweeping hops, it was still quite a distance with a lake and river in between “Sure, if you can catch it,” I replied, handing him a small dog carrier for transport. Then I called the other guinea woman to let her know we may have found one of her birds.
Within an hour he returned, bird in case and wife in tow who wanted to see our baby guinea keets and coop set up. I thanked him and set the carrier in the shade, paying it no mind as we visited. But after they left, I noticed how interested the newly returned Lavender guinea was to whatever was in the carrier. He prowled around it, jumped on top of it, poking his face into the front gate again and again. A question formed in my mind. “could it be….?” I picked up the crate and examined the bird inside. Blinking, I looked again. Clearly it was not a Pearl Grey. It was black with no white dots on its feathers. I turned the crate at every angle until I was finally sure and then called the other guinea woman. “What color were your missing birds?” I asked. She confirmed they were Pearl Grey. “Well, this one is a Royal Purple and even though it’s hard to believe, it could well be one of mine.” She agreed I should keep the bird, so I put the Lavender and the Royal in the coop together for the afternoon.
I was gobsmacked, imagining what had occurred for this reality. Could the scatter of Royal feathers in the green glen have been made by only one bird? Did it reflect a predator snatching at both birds but only able to corral one?
The spot in the forest where I found the Royal feathers was midway to the lake. A sole predator could only get one bird at a time, so perhaps there was an opportunity for the other Royal to fly off, travelling east toward the rising sun, through the forest, coming to the lakes edge, following its curve toward the Dam, flying down the sweeping hill to where the White River re-emerged from the Dam and flowed north. Then perhaps it wandered along until making a dash across, avoiding predator or fishermen or boaters. Landing on the quieter side of homes along the shore, it continued making its way until finally finding a coop of chickens and the hope for a new home. After 21 days that must have been a relief. But no! Captured by Mr. Rugged Outdoorsy, it was transported back to our home and recognized by her old pal Lavender who gleefully welcomed his lost buddy, and new mate!
It seemed a preposterous tale but how could I disagree? Those birds had not been with me for two weeks before they disappeared. I had studied the birds, particularly the Royals as they faithfully roosted in the coop, until they didn’t. Those Royals were smaller and quieter than the Lavender and Violets. They had solid black feet. This Royal had all that and one thing I had not recalled. Its waddles, a fleshy growth that normally hang below the beak, were small round orbs turned back and up, creating bright orange circles on each cheek. Combining that image with the pointed helmet on top of the head and its long beak, I immediately thought of the famous Italian Opera “Pagliaccii”, about a very sad clown. “Pal Yah Chee” I called to it “This is now your name” and dubbed his every close companion “Lavendee.” They have been side-by-each ever since.
Lavendee and Pagalicci did not know what they were doing as they set off into the wild woods. How could they, knowing only a cooped life from birth. By nature, they are wild birds so the lure of the forest was instinctual. But given all that happened, I now suspect my prodigal birds would agree with what poet Robert Frost once wrote: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” And we do and will, always, for the love of guinea reigns strong here.