Guinea Keets

Friends down the road keep guinea fowl to help reduce the tick population in their yard. I used to do the same. This is the chief benefit of guineas. Other than tick control, guineas are kind of a pain in the neck.  They can be amusing — they look like run-away helmets on stick legs —  but as anyone who has been surrounded by a flock of guineas knows, they specialize in shrieking their heads off at you… even if they have known you since they were hatched. Which brings us to their secondary benefit: they do provide early warning for anything that is vaguely out of the usual — a blade of grass newly bent over a walkway, a shift in the wind, a family pet scratching itself.

Something, probably a fox, had been picking off their guineas one by one. This is also not unusual.  Their guineas had been disappearing during the early morning and late afternoon, mine disappeared overnight. Guineas can be trained to roost in a coop with chickens at night, but usually they lose the habit as the summer progresses until, by fall, most of them will be nesting in trees.  One year my guineas nested in the tree outside the window of my bedroom.  It was from this experience that I learned that guinea fowl never stop making noise. Not even when they sleep. Apparently in their native habitat, they have limited predator pressure. But here in New England the tree-climbing predators like raccoons and fishers are all too happy to help themselves to such talkative birds.

I suggested to my friends that we hatch out some eggs to replace their fast-disappearing flock. I have the incubator.

A deal was struck, and we set 21 eggs.  After the requisite 28 days, the keets hatched. Fourteen made it out of the eggs.  And after three weeks in a makeshift brooder in the greenhouse,  thirteen were ready to be moved out to a field house with the chickens.

Armed with optimism and experience, I grabbed a pail and approached the brooder.

I opened the lid and started to put the guineas into the bucket. I think I got one in the bucket and reached for a second when the one in the bucket realized it could fly… and pretty well. The other birds saw their associate airborne and they, too, took wing.  I made a feint at catching them, but quickly realized the futility of the exercise. I felt like Cinderella with her bluebirds flitting about her head with ribbons.  Only my birds weren’t whistling a cheerful little tune of encouragement, they were yelling their heads off, and if they could have found some bailer twine they would likely have bound me and topped off their work with a neat double overhand knot.  Cinderella would get to her Ball, but I would not get to my chores.

They all got away.

The good news is that they were in my greenhouse… the tomato-jungle greenhouse.  So in getting away they weren’t getting out.  And this was a really happy place for them — lots of undergrowth and cover, plenty of bugs and abundant water.  Why would they want to leave?

The Guineas of the Tomato Jungle.  Turn your sound up and watch fast. You don’t get much video on a WordPress upload!

I watched as they disappeared and reappeared amidst the undergrowth.  They were happily shrieking as they rustled around in the plants.  I triangulated their progress by shrieks and jiggling plants. I pulled the greenhouse doors closed — or as closed as they could get with the garden hose sticking out.

And by now, dear reader, you know how this goes.

Come morning, all 13 of the little wretches were outside, in front of the farm stand, hiding in the horseradish. I guess you could call it hiding.  They were, of course, shrieking their little heads off.  But as little birds, they weren’t shrieking to scare anyone or anything off, they were just shrieking for the sake of shrieking. It was shrieking practice.

I set a little pile of chicken feed in an open area behind the horseradish and in front of the building.  A space big enough that I might “get the drop” on them should they emerge.  Armed with a laundry basket — light and durable — I went to capture the keets.

I crept up quietly and waited for them to cluster around the feed. At just the right moment, I lunged with the laundry basket.  I got eight, but one was little enough that it squeezed through the handhold and rejoined the other four escapees. The remaining seven, being ever-so-slightly larger, fought mightily to fit through the various openings in the basket.  When I left momentarily to find something to slide under the basket, I could see them all sticking their heads out, yelling something in guinea fowl-ese that must have meant, “HE’S GOING TO EAT US! DO SOMETHING!  GET US OUT OF HERE!”.

I slipped a metal screen under the basket and paraded the whole contraption to a field house where I dropped the birds in.  They seemed happy enough.  I headed back to the horseradish to see if I might catch some more.  But now they were wise to me.  They avoided the feed and stayed hidden in the horseradish.  I managed to grab one when it got tangled up in the leaves, but the others disappeared.  One flew into the yard and the rest high-tailed it around the building.  I dropped the captured one into the house with the others, but that was the last I would see of the others that had evaded me.

I went about the rest of the day’s chores.

The good news is that the wayward keets decided to get back into the greenhouse. I heard them. Shrieking their heads off, of course, from beneath the tomatoes. I didn’t see them.

And I fully expect to find them yelling at me from the horseradish in the morning.



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