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The Call of the Guinea Hen

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guinea hen perched on a fenceThe call of the guinea hen is something you will never forget. Their call is loud and very distinctive with their double clack-clack sound. If you keep other birds you can easily distinguish the call of the guinea fowl above the others.

THE CALL OF THE GUINEA HEN

Apart from being loud and distinctive the call has the ability to penetrate throughout and beyond the garden and even sometimes into the house. Noise can be a problem for any writer but recently for me it began to become a real nuisance. I must admit to threatening my guinea with the roasting pan once or twice.

guinea hen foraging in grassOf course my threats were idle. I was fond of these strange helmet-shaped creatures who pecked their way around the garden with their heads bent.

We originally had a male and female guinea hen who immediately got to work ridding our garden of slugs and snails. They were noisy occasionally but mostly they just got on with the job.

GUINEA ATTACKED BY DUCKS?

All was well until one of the pair, the male, got an injured neck. We didn’t hold out much hope but over the following couple of weeks it seemed to recover very well and its neck was soon covered in newly grown feathers. Over time we became more confident of his survival. Then one morning he came out of his house with all the fresh new feathers gone and the wound re-exposed and raw.

The guinea fowl had been sleeping in a little hut (old dog kennel) with our two ducks and all had been well. I have no way of knowing what happened, or why, but I can only assume the other birds attacked it during the night.

THE CRUELTY OF NATURE

I noticed that they had specifically attacked the guinea’s neck – the weakness. No other part of the bird was injured. Watching my flock and their antics I have noticed that nature can be cruel like that. I made most of my observations when hand-feeding them sweetcorn.

I go out with sweetcorn a few times a week and scatter it around. They love it and as soon as they see the container I always keep the corn in they run at me in a frantic, feathery pack. The smallest hen gets pushed and pecked and squeezed to the back by the rest. The pecking order is as real in hen-world as it is in the human world.

Working in the garden always makes me realised just how wonderful nature is. But part of that wonder is a certain brutality. Nature is all about survival and it is hell-bent on preserving its resources for those most likely to thrive.

The guinea spent the rest of the day slowly tottering from place to place, following his mate on wobbly legs and ignored by rest of the flock. He died later that day.

MATING FOR LIFE

We tried to get a new mate for the remaining female fowl but we couldn’t get one. We had heard that guinea fowl mate for life so were a bit worried about how she would adapt.

However, the surviving guinea fowl seemed to recover quite well from the loss of her mate and as you see below she was soon happy enough to be hanging around with the duck and drake.

ducks and guinea hen walking in grassThe threesome were a lovely sight, clack-clacking and quacking their way around the garden together, leaving trails of empty snail shells in their wake.

Then one morning I opened the hut and as usual the ducks and guineas came out, but what wasn’t usual was the fact that all three of them were pecking at each other viciously.

WHY DID THEY FIGHT?

The fight involved duck pecking at drake, guinea fowl pecking at duck, drake pecking at duck and guinea fowl, and duck pecking at guinea fowl. At one point the duck was spinning the guinea fowl around by its tail feathers  – it was all out war, or as they say in Wicklow, where I used to live – a right mill!

The only way I could stop the fight was by separating them. If you’ve ever tried to catch a guinea fowl then you’ll know what I mean when I say you have to be a fast runner with a lot of patience – sad to say neither of these qualities apply to me.

HOW DO YOU CATCH A GUINEA HEN?

After much back and forth, tripping over rocks and getting caught in our trip-wire-bramble she eventually ‘hid’ in the corner of the hen coup and I managed to catch her with my net and put her in the dog house. I might add that guineas hate being handled with a passion. Ours struggled so hard against the net I feared she would explode with fury.

After a few hours apart they all cooled down, but it seemed the relationships were never the same. The duck and drake never again allowed the guinea fowl to forage with them and each time the guinea fowl went near them she was pecked and chased away.

EXCLUDED

It was terribly sad to see the poor old guinea hen foraging around on her own, watching the ducks from a distance as though waiting for a chance to join them. It reminded me of playground bullying – when kids stop playing with another child and leave them isolated.

The poor old guinea was alone for a couple of weeks and it was really horrible to see her trundling along in the distance behind the ducks. I would watch her approach them regularly, but any time the fowl attempted to get any closer than about fifty yards the drake would chase it away.

TWO’S A CROWD?

Seeing the drake so aggressive towards the fowl made me wonder if it felt threatened in some way. Was the guinea hen one woman too much?

After a few weeks we managed to get another fowl. Unfortunately it was a female. We couldn’t get a male but thought maybe at least they’d be company for each other

It didn’t work like that. The new fowl steered clear of the old one and started hanging out with the hens – it even slept in the hen-house with them.

Guinea hen sitting on a windowThe old guinea fowl started making it’s clack clack noise non-stop all day and half the night. I have to admit the sounds were very disturbing as I tried to write. I had to keep all my windows closed to block the penetrating noise.

Then one morning it was quiet – way too quiet. We went outside and walked around the garden. No sign of the fowl. I walked around the back of the compost area, this being one of their favourite places to forage, and there they were – feathers.guinea hen feathers scattered in grass

There was no mistaking the vivid, dappled grey feathers of  the guinea fowl. There was no corpse, nothing left of our noisy creature but feathers.

THE FOX

All signs pointed to the fox. Our neighbour had seen one in his garden only a few days ago and we know there are plenty of them in our area and are always careful about locking up our flock in the safety of the enclosure at night. We had tried very hard to coax the guinea into the wire fence safety of the hen-run but had no luck. A determined guinea hen is hard to coax.

DO GUINEA BIRDS COMMIT SUICIDE?

I had only recently read a post by another guinea fowl owner who had lost one guinea hen to a fox. After the death he observed the strange behaviour and subsequent death by fox of its mate. From this he deducted that the lonely survivor had put itself in the path of the fox that took its mate deliberately – a sort of guinea fowl suicide.

Our remaining guinea wandered around clack-clacking all day. Then one night it didn’t go into the hen-house. Hubby tried to catch it but it started flying around some rocks and  he couldn’t get it. He even went out later when it was pitch black and had another try but to no avail. It was absolutely determined to stay out and when we gave up and stopped trying to catch it we were left with a bad feeling about this birds chances as we went to bed that night.

guinea hen feathers after a fox attackAs it turned out bad feelings were right. The following morning we went out looking for the guinea and couldn’t find it. Then we searched around compost area and there we found its remains.

All that was left of the last one of our lovely guinea hens was another pile of scattered grey feathers. The attack had taken place in the same place as the other one. As I thought back to my threats of adding the bird to my roasting pan I felt a bit like the exasperated mother, who, driven mad by her noisy kids, threatens to kill them if they don’t keep quiet – only to see them run over by a car the very next day.

I don’t know about guinea hen suicide – we can observe and interpret animal and bird behaviour as much as we want but we never truly know. Still, I did wonder if this was what my guinea had done. So far she had avoided the fox by perching high up on the fence. Why would she stay on the ground at night – particularly after that first fox visit?

guinea hen and a drake watching a duck splash in a paddlng poolDespite the noise I will miss those strange little creatures. Still, I am left with some lovely memories – like the time this water-hating guinea tried to join the ducks in the bath. For now, all I can say now is that if there is a guinea fowl heaven I hope all three of them are in it and are feasting on pounds of sweet corn and many, many snails. RIP Guineas.

Bye for now

Grace

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