Four guinea hens 2.jpg (40406 bytes)I am a proud caretaker of eight wild Guinea fowl. Four white ones and four black ones. They come unannounced from the shadows of the woods to fill the air with excessive chatter, rhythmic chants, and a coo that melts the heart. Several calls to the neighbors found no owners, only delightful memories, as these birds had stayed with each of them for several weeks before moving on. Because I have a bird feeder, a stream near by and a dog to create excitement from time to time, my world had became their winter roost. Since there arrival they have become apart of my daily enjoyment.

God was on holiday when these bird were created. They stand about 18 inches high with feathers that appear untidy and draped like a cloak over their small frames. Huge talons give them great strength for roasting and digging my grass to the bone. But the sadness comes in the head. God took away the feathers and added a tall lizard comb, buggy eyes, and bright red wattles that hang sideways rather than down like a rooster. The waffles jiggle up and down when they walk. The skin around the face is pale yellow with an old man appearance. Running up the back of the neck are three inch hairs, shooting haphazardly to and fro. These birds march to a different drummer. Were they given all the leftover's on creation day? A person doesnít know whether to laugh or to cry.

At first I wanted to get rid of them but as time passed, I grew attached to these comical characters. My own world had been in a upheaval, and watching these clowns, has soften the edges of my scattered world. They go against all the common rules of survival. Vocal squawks announce their coming and goings. They sing the morning in and chant the sun to bed. I worry that they tell predators where they are. Like there brother the grouse, they fly in short burst and then teeter on the fur tree branches. When they are off in the woods, loving coos fills the air and soften my heart. Soon those develop into screams of discontent or panic calls when danger is near, and finally an all out noise war just because they can. When all of them begin to chant the Guinea fowl song, I wonder if it would be of use as an interrogations prop, to get someone to talk. How can a bird that is so stupid looking, so out right loud all the time survive in the wild?

After watching them for several weeks I learned that they live their lives as one bird. They have one leader who I am not to sure is the smartest. They follow him or her everywhere, squawking and complaining about every choice. They can be in the middle of scratching for food under my bird feeder and the leader decides to replenish his thirst. He walks off to the stream with a low chatter. One by one they follow, each full of disagreement, down to the stream below. Some of the faint squawks resembles cuss words. The last one arrives 3 or 4 minutes after the leader. Of course the head fowl finishes before the others and returns back to the seed feast while calling everyone to follow. The frustration continues. One bird stands watch at all times, with neck stretched, voicing the current updates and strutting the fact that he or she was chosen to be the lookout. There are little spats about who should move over. If danger is determined, one by one the periscopes pop up, with voices of alarm, they continue into a loud overture of disapproval and disgust. Just as quickly as it started, it is over. Eating continues as well as talking with your mouth full.

The difficult part of staying here is my miniature, Australian Shepard, Merlin whose breed is known for their great herding instincts. At first he found them an intrusion onto his property and spent a good part of his day chase them away. On his first meeting, he wasnít sure of how to pursue them. He started off slow and before to long the birds had lead him in a circle three times. Merlin stopped, sat down to ponder this new enemy. This time Merlin increased his speed. The world was a frenzy of white and black feathers beating the air into down drafts. Hurriedly they escaped to the tall fur tree on the side of the house. This has been repeated over and over with the same results. One dog barking on the ground, eight birds screaming in the trees. If they become separated from each other, everyone squawks, until the group is made whole again. If this happens at night fall, they call all night long. The stranded bird will not fly at night to its comrade who are only a tree away. After they rejoin there is always a victory celebration.

Anytime in the daylight you can catch them walking the plowed roads and shoveled walkways on there quest to the neighbors. Why fly if you can walk. (Guinea fowl thinking.) There voices can be heard behind the snow banks. Before long they come, single file, down our circular driveway in a running waddle to reach the bird feeder before the evil dog comes chasing. Most of the time Merlin just watches in puzzlement. If they have to cross in front of the dog, while he sits on the porch, they walk proudly, steadfast and quick three quarter time to reach there destination. At these times Merlin doesnít chase them. There must be some engagement rules to follow. They even took up residence in the dog house one night, but only one night.

Guinea-hen-head-turned.jpg-.jpg (19833 bytes)I have watched crows and hawks come to see what all the commotion is about. Is dinner being served? But the crows leave laughing. I have woke to them waiting on the back porch outside my bedroom window, having their morning discussion about the availability of food and water source in the local area. They sing the sunset down behind the trees and give praise that they lived another day. Arenít they telling the enemy where they will be for the night? After the jamming secession is over, they fly 10 to 20 feet into the tree to roost. Do they ponder the days experiences, their close calls and wonder who owns the persistent dog? On full moon nights they have a slumber party. Everyone speaks all night. Lately the safest place they prefer is outside my bedroom window. If any predator or even a noise presents itself, the designated scout sounds the alarm. This turns into a rhythmic chanting, forever, and then silence again. When the sun reinvents itself the following morning, their songs begins again. My wake up time is slowly getting earlier and earlier. One night about midnight there was a great ruckus. I went out to see what had happened but it wasnít till morning that we knew one was missing. Maybe a great horn owl had dinner after all.

Guinea-Hens-dusting-2.jpg (36446 bytes)Over the years my husband has throw ash from the wood stove out into the pasture. The birds discovered that this works well at maintaining flees and such. I kept finding gray circles of ash on the snow and wondering what they meant. I notice both the black and white birds were becoming gray. When they shake it off, the cloud plume encircled them and drifted off. Linus reinvented. They leave me feather treasures scattered throughout the woods and deposit transformed bird seed on everything. Time has softened Merlinís heart. When the neighbor dogs come over to harass the birds, Merlin protects them. He still finds time to chase them once and a while, for he has to keep up his image.

With the difficulty of this world of ours, I find these creatures have brought me much joy and tenderness. Just last night I tried to chase them from the tree beside my bedroom window to another tall tree in the front of the house. They allowed me to chase them away but when my back was turned, they reclaimed their spot. There squawks raise my dander, there coos heal my soul and there antics melt my cooling heart. I find this winter filled with spots of joy and laughter. How can so much joy be in such an ugly bird? Maybe God knew exactly what he was doing.