Well, its about time I got the Farm Blog going again…so lets talk about birds.
I’ve been raising fowl on the farm for years. Most would agree they have an idyllic life, free range and plenty of space to enjoy their social life, while providing us with fresh, yummy eggs and controlling insect pests well. Occasionally, a hen will get broody and sit on a clutch of eggs, then bring new life to the flock. Chickens, in general, though less likely to get broody, are great mothers and I have had to intervene very little.
This year I have a pretty large flock of adult Guinea hens. In the past, our guinea population has been small…6 or so, with only one female. This year, thanks to a neighbor who needed to relocate her flock, we have a larger, more diverse flock. I’ve enjoyed watching these little, flighty prehistoric creatures and their antics. I am realizing, though, that they have a pretty interesting social structure. We’ve had two broody guinea hens this year. The first one laid her clutch under a prickly black raspberry patch, and hatched out one chick. I found her and her ‘boyfriend’ showing the new arrival around the barnyard. They, then seemed to abandon the baby, leaving it to peep loudly in complaint. I rescued the little tike and then stole the rest of her eggs after finding a dead chick near her nest. We successfully hatched out three more healthy chicks and they live in the brooder now, until they feather out and can be released to the barnyard proper. Despite what I thought was an appropriate decision….Guineas are reported as ‘bad’ mothers…the momma Guinea was inconsolable for about 24 hours, looking for her babies. Maybe I made a mistake?
The second broody Guinea hen is still on her nest and hatching should start in the next 7-10 days. She laid her clutch in one of my raised veggie beds and the babies will not be able to get out without help. So I have decided to leave them with mom…an experiment of sorts…to see if she will, or will not be a good momma. I have realized over the years that there are often many misunderstandings, people develop about animals, just because they don’t understand their behavior. Something happened this week that made me rethink all the reports about Guinea’s bad parenting skills…
I have a flock of juvenile Guineas this year. They are about 2 1/2 months old and have been out of the brooder for about a month. They stay close to the barn and together. They are a mix of white and lavenders, so they are a distinctive group, compared to the adults. My neighbor reported last weekend that the juveniles were out in her meadow, nearly a quarter mile away. I thought….’That’s crazy! They never go that far out…”. Well the other day on my morning rounds I noticed an older male Guinea leading the juveniles around the yard. As I watched, he would pick up and drop a worm or large bug, then make a weird noise that brought all the youngsters running to his spot, where they would fight over the prize briefly. Then he would move on to a new prize. This went on all morning. Since then, that male bird has been their inseparable guide. He is clearly teaching the young birds to forage. That’s wild and amazing….they aren’t even his kids! I’ve named him Uncle Morty…
I’ll post about my findings with the remaining broody Guinea. Should be interesting and I hope everyone is wrong about their parenting skills. They are a lot less domesticated than chickens and survival skills may be a more important skill for their youngsters to learn early. This might change what parenting looks like for them. I also suspect, now, that the males participate in parenting much more than we might expect….