Guineas: That Great Speckled Bird
I love Guinea Fowl! When I was a teenager, Mom got the first flock for our place. It was a dozen lavender colored birds with white speckles. They raced madly around the place flowing together like a wave on the ocean. Almost immediately we noticed a difference in the pest population. Ticks disappeared from the yard and in a wide radius around the house and barn. Fleas also disappeared, as well as flies, and gnats.
And the Guinea were good entertainment. Back then, it was common to find most families sitting on their porch, or under shade trees in the late afternoon having a brief rest and glass of ice tea. We sat and watched the guinea race about dodging each other and snatching treasures from each other’s beaks. Whoever invented some of the early video games such as Asteroids, or Space Invaders must have spent hours watching guinea fowl in action. They are the original epitome of ADHD.
Of course, there are drawbacks to having these winsome birds. They are LOUD. As soon as the first rays of the sun peep over the horizon the guinea are up and talking about it. They make a wide range of sounds, but only the female can say ‘buck-wheat’. Females (which is typical of any of the species) can imitate the males as well as make their own calls.
This rather spectacular sound makes for a good alarm system. Guinea Fowl are intensely aware of their surroundings at all times and notice the least thing out of place, or any sign of an intruder. Let a shadow drift across the yard from a large bird or a grandchild’s kite and the air is filled with warnings. Move a lawn chair from its original position, or introduce a new one, and it is immediately surrounded by a circle of chattering birds. They have also been known to gather and stare in my front door to see what they can see.
Guinea fowl are also death to snakes. If one rears it’s ugly head anywhere in the vicinity, it is instantly surrounded and pecked to death, then fought over by the entire group.
When we put our house here on the old home place, I started searching for guinea. They aren’t always easy to find in our area. Thirty three years ago, I was forced to order them from an exotic pet store. Later, I found them locally from an exotic bird supplier who also sold pheasants, peacocks, and quail. Then the farm supply stores began to bring in keets (guinea chicks) by special order. But thankfully, today most feed stores will get in a supply at then end of May and often again around the end of August. They get ‘over run’ stock, so there is no having to meet order limits. You just reserve the number you want and pick them up when they arrive.
It isn’t easy to keep a large flock. They are curious, nervous birds who always have to keep moving. And it seems the highway is a magnet for them. Perhaps they inspired the Atari game ‘frogger’ as well. Guinea Fowl love to race back and forth across the road regardless of oncoming traffic, totally ignoring the rule ‘look both ways before crossing’. We’ve lost a lot of birds this way.
I usually wind up with only one or two by the end of a three year period and have to buy more keets. Raise my own you say? HA! Guinea hens are the worst mothers in the animal kingdom. They hatch their eggs and then dash off into the field, leaving the tiny little fluff balls to follow as best they can. Most get tangled in grass and either die of neglect or are picked off by the local felines. Mom never seems to know how many she has, and doesn’t seem to care. By the end of ten minutes or so her entire brood is scattered and she has forgotten they even exist. Once, I lucked on to a nest just as they were emerging and was able to gather them up and raise them. But that is a very rare occurrence.
So I just pick mine up at the feed store whenever I run low. This year was a ‘renewal’ year for me as I only have one hen left whom I named Mildred. Mildred has taken up with the chickens and even goes into the chicken house with them. But I know she craves the company of her own kind, because she spends a great deal of time by the pen where my Dominique chicks are. They are black and spotted much like a guinea so she must feel some kinship with them.
Soon, my new set of keets will be big enough to go out to a brooding pen, and then she can be close to them. For these are very social birds and the more the merrier as far as they are concerned. And I can’t wait to see them zipping around cleaning up the pests and providing entertainment – the best kind farm life has to offer!
Music On The Square
Entertainment in rural America