Every morning one of us goes out to the bird yard to let everybody out of their enclosures, put out some food and check on the water. When I saw my husband Ted’s face coming in the other day I knew something was wrong. “There are no guineas,” he said. “They’re all gone, every single one of them.” The first thought was that they’d simply gotten out of the pen and had flown off– but I know those birds. If they’d gotten out they’d be lined up on a tree branch in the yard, squawking away, well within sight and hearing distance. They make their presence known. I put on my mud boots as fast as I could and went back out there with him. What we saw was both mysterious and foreboding–a few feathers, not a drop of blood, and two new openings in the chicken wire. The one at the top Ted thinks could have been caused by the weight of all the ice pulling it down, but the one at the bottom that showed clear signs of tampering. The chicken wire was crumpled and pulled away from the frame, leaving a small but adequate hole for some nimble creature to make an escape. The most alarming find, however, was that the side hatch to the whole thing was completely open! The latch had given me trouble the night before, so I know I closed it, but it troubles me indeed to think that I might have left it less than secure. What is confusing about that, however, is that if something could so easily get in, why would it bother to claw it’s way back out of the pen? After thinking about it, the fact that the door was open actually gave us some encouragement that they had escaped, at least some of them anyway. But if that were the case, where were they? Maybe they were so traumatized by the attack they were hiding out somewhere and would eventually make their way back? It was a mere shred of hope that we allowed ourselves.
The list of potential night predators out here is long–racoon, coyote, fox, owl, possum, weasel. It seems like a massive overnight bird raid is not that unusual in these parts, as I have discovered by talking to neighbors. Our friends Marilyn and Allen, who live next door, once lost seventeen chickens in one night. Another neighbor had six chickens that roosted in a tree right outside her bedroom window. She was sure that if anything bothered them she’d be able to hear it, but one morning they were simply gone. All that remained were a few feathers. It sounded all too familiar. An article by poultry expert Gail Damerow gave us some solid information on identifying the perpetrator. We highly suspect it was a fox, or possibly more than one. All the characteristics typically attributed to foxes apply here–sly, stealthy, clever, brazen, and particularly during this extreme cold spell we’ve had—hungry.
So it’s been a few days, and is now more than apparent that we’ve seen the last of our little flock of five. Come spring we will try again with a new batch, this time all the wiser. Hopefully we’ll have better luck, especially after making modifications to the enclosure and a hard won appreciation for the dangers that lurk. But there will never again be a first flock. They’ll always be special, and so it’s with love and this small eulogy that I send them off
Sweet Guineas–I miss your funny little dinosaur faces, your squawking and chirping, and looking out the window to see you scurrying around the yard, eating bugs and digging holes and taking dust baths. I miss you coming up to the porch in the mornings to see what was going on, and how you would run towards me when I stepped outside, hopeful that I’d have something for you. I miss your happy sounds, the trilling and whirring when you were delighted with your treats. And I miss seeing you in flight! As silly and funny as you were on the ground, you were magnificent in the air, all five of you moving out over the garden together, the sound of your wings so powerful and sure. Thank you for bringing us such fun and joy while you were here.
Sending you love, wherever you are.
–Blessings from the lady bringing you seed.
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