Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bird Observances - Three Stories

We began with twelve Guinea Fowl last summer and here in February are left with only two. I expected to lose a few to hawks and owls, but I think I've lost them mostly to their own lack of intelligence. A Guinea's head is quite small compared to it's body, hence it's brain is even smaller; about pea-sized would be my guess. Perhaps this is how the Pea-Fowl family earned it's name!

We have thick pine trees and shrubbery here for the Guineas to roost in, but they chose to roost atop an old basketball goal by the Little Barn, effectively transforming the flock into a Guinea-popsicle for any resident owls. Their number began to dwindle quickly. They moved their night roost to our roof. Same result. Finally we were down to four, they began to roost in a tree, and the attrition rate seemed to stabilize. That is until two of them, on two different occasions, decided for some odd reason to fly into the dog run where Labs were being boarded. Those Labs now think that High Meadow Kennels has greatly improved it's offering of doggie-fun! So then we were down to the two lone survivors.

We've put in a dog park, and yesterday a young, huge German Shepherd was romping in there. One of the Guineas decided to check it out and flew up on the gate to peer down at the dog who loved the idea of a toy coming his way! I knew if I ran over there to try and rescue the dumb bird he would fly right down into waiting jaws, so I began calling him with the dinner-time call - "chick, chick, chick". He turned to look towards me and began to clumsily turn himself around on the top of the gate. It was a precarious few moments, but he made his turn, hopped down and ran over for some feed. Whew! Dumb bird.

We've been luckier with chicken-attrition and have five out of six left. When we got them, the idea was to let them free-range all over our acreage and in the adjoining woods. But where did they choose to go? To the flower and veggie beds! You wouldn't believe how quickly a chicken can de-mulch entire flower beds. So we built a chicken yard to contain the girls - they can roam around and my beds stay mulched.

Then they discovered they could fly out since we hadn't built a roof, so I began clipping wings. Every time one escaped they got a nice little haircut. One of them, a redhead named Lucy, continued to fly out despite all configurations of wing-clipping, and I was getting really perplexed as to what to do about it. I'd clipped her wings so much that I'd was down to the quick and could see it hurt her. What to do???

Having a pilot for a husband pays off. As I considered the little knowledge about flying that I'd learned from him, I remembered that it takes more than two wings to fly - it takes a tail, too! So, off came her tail feathers and she hasn't flown out since! Now I occasionally call her Baldy as well as Lucy.

And finally, a story about one of the most beautiful bird behaviors I've ever seen. In fact, I'd never witnessed this before. It was a rare mild winter day that Saturday, and John and I were out working. I was going up the hill to the horse barn and heard the oddest noise. I knew it was some type of bird-calling, but could only guess that it was the Guineas down below. It was a calling, a chattering-type of sound that I'd never heard before.

Then I saw it. A flock of geese very high in flight, and they were heading east. Now I've heard countless flocks of geese honking as they flew over - it's loud and carries a good distance, but this was something totally different, something chattery. As I stood watching and listening I began to hear it again, somewhere else, very far and faint in the distance. At that same moment, the flock that I was watching heard it, too, and suddenly wheeled their flight north. Then again I saw it.

Another flock, so far up I could barely see it, was heading north and making that chattering call. As soon as the east-bound flock wheeled towards them, the north-bound flock found a thermal and began circling and circling. Not until the formerly east-bound flock joined them in the thermal did they continue flying north, both flocks together. It was amazing to watch and I was thankful to have seen the beauty found in migrating geese.