Friday, July 10, 2015

The Winged Menace (part I)

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I’m settling into bed with a lovely summer breeze rustling my drapes.  The screeching of my guinea fowl, “Purple,” occasionally breaks the peace.  He just passed his second birthday and is the lone survivor of our flock of 20 birds.  He epitomizes the Darwin Theory.  And he is a local menace.
First, some background.  Like the African Pygmy Goat, guinea fowl originated in Africa – Cameroon, even!  (I’m creating my own little savanna in California - who knew?)  Wiki calls them a “family of insect and seed-eating, ground-nesting birds resemble[ing] partridges, but with featherless heads.”  They grow to 16-28” tall and weigh in at 1.5-3.5 pounds.  I’d put Purple on the larger end of this scale.  They have polka-dotted feathers, weird jowls, and unicorn horns.  Their neck feathers take on a purple hue – hence my bird’s clever name.  

And for what purpose, you may ask?  Good question.  Not much.  People in Botswana, Nigeria, India, Belgium and Georgia (USA) eat them.  Apparently Guinea Fowl do NOT taste like chicken – they're drier, leaner, and gamier.  Some super crafty people use the feathers to make stuff.  Some homesteaders keep them around to eat bugs and snakes (!).  Some conspiracy theorists use them as guard animals.  And some hipsters just like to have weird-ass birds wandering their property. 

My Dad talked about getting some of these birds when I was a tween, because my Dad was a random kind of guy.  He also wanted them because they make noise when people (read: invaders) come into their territory.  And what a cacophony it is.  So I had at least heard about the creatures.  A few months before I bought them, Bubba had sprinted across the front lawn to snatch Cash out of the path of a baby rattlesnake slithering through the grass.  Snakes.  I don’t like them, and guinea fowl eat them.  That’s all it took to sell me on the idea.  So, there I was with a box of birds. [#impulsepurchase]

I got my first batch of 11 guinea fowl at the feed store in Red Bluff while at a goat show (of course).
Guinea Fowl vs. Snake

The sales person put the avocado-sized “keets” (= baby guinea fowl) into a cardboard box with some holes and off they went to the goat show with me.  I pampered that first batch, cooping them up in the little yellow goat barn, chasing them in at night, counting their ranks each day.  But, other than that, I did not know the first thing about these odd birds.  Ours look(ed) like the top right bird in the montage.  Polka dotted and purple necked. 
Predators picked them off one by one, until only Purple survived.  “He must feel sooo lonely,” I pined.  So when a guy at the feed store was selling off his entire flock of adult birds, I jumped at the chance to restock my flock.  (Hmmm…why was he selling every last one of them…?)  So, 10 more birds came home.  I thought that getting adults would foster a better survival rate.  Nope.  I must’ve fished three or four birds out of the water trough.  Then it was down to Purple and one hen – who was missing a toe, so we called her “Gimpy Guinea.”  I thought for sure Gimpy Guinea would have been the first one eaten but somehow she made it to the finals.  Purple loved that hen (guineas are monogamous), and was absolutely distraught when she disappeared.  
"NO MORE,” I vowed.  So now we just have one, lonely guinea fowl: Purple.  If he had been on “Survivor” he’d have won a $1,000,000.  Just sayin’.
Had I done my research, I might not have made the purchase in the first place.  In researching this blog I ran across an article entitled “5 Reasons NOT to own Guinea Fowl.”  I’ll summarize it:
 1)     They are loud.
      2)   They can be bullies.
      3)     They love to roam.
      4)     They brood and breed.
      5)     They are stupid.

Yes, it’s all true.  Especially that last part: STOOOPID.

Loud doesn’t bother me: I have 7 kids and I can tune out just about anything.  Bullies: so what—the chickens could fend for themselves.  Roam… I’ll come back to that one.  Brood/breed: so what, I have space. Stupid: yes, it really does matter.
So now Purple lives in the goat pen, fighting his way in to the grain bowl with the goats.  He picks bugs off of the goats (like oxpeckers and hartebeests in Africa).  He squawks up a storm when anything happens anywhere (just like the article says).  I haven’t seen another rattlesnake around, but I'm not sure it's him.  (Whatever, I’ll take it).  He nests next to the trailer by day, and high up in a tree at night.  It all sounds quaintly pastoral—until Purple sees a car and loses his little birdy brain.

When he was part of a flock, Purple paid no attention to automobiles.  But left to his own devices, he has made it his life mission to accost ALL vehicles—coming and going.  It’s not like he’s chasing them off the property (“Leave! You blasted metal monster!”); it’s not that he’s defending his territory when they enter the property (“How dare you enter my kingdom!”).  He doesn’t discriminate against one model or shape of car over another: SUVs, sedans, coupes, pick-ups, wagons, cross-overs.  Purple does have a strange hostility towards blue cars, though.
Is he admiring his sexy physique in the reflection? My limited research online indicates that few animals recognize the image as themselves.  Does he think it’s another guinea fowl? His lost flock maybe?  Does he get confused about coming vs. going?   Sadly, we will never know what goes on in the brain of a guinea fowl.  
So here’s how it plays out at my house several a times every single day.  I back the car out of the garage and the bird flashes across the rear view camera screen.  Whoosh.  A few times.  I turn the car around with a tidy 3-point turn, and head for the gate.  Purple squawks angrily alongside the non-compliant car.  He keeps pace with the car as it turns onto the two-lane road.  Then he hits the afterburners, guinea fowl style.  Head outstretched to maximize the aerodynamics of his rotund form; legs a blur of motion; waddling like a jiggly T-rex.  Is he channeling his inner roadrunner?
He chases the car down the road – sometimes in the middle of the lane, sometimes in the shoulder.  Depends on his mood, I guess.  After a few hundred feet, he veers off into the driveway of the winery next door.  Either he’s tired or distracted, because he ALWAYS goes to the winery.  And here’s where the trouble starts, and the words “bully” and “stupid” come into play.

The winery next door is lovely.  David and I belong to the “Cellar Club” and are on a first name basis with the staff and owners.  How convenient is it that I live in the middle-of-no-where and the only place I can walk to is a wine tasting room? I love living in wine country.  Here’s a shameless plug for them (I kinda owe them one or two or ten).
Mayo Winery
Anyway, Purple swings into their parking lot, and positions himself between that antique yellow truck and the entrance to the tasting room (just behind the truck).  He waits patiently, eyes alert for strangers in his land, lurking on the asphalt.  Like a sniper, or a hawk.  Then they come; they arrive by the busload, the wine-trolley-load, the rental-car-load.  Tourists.  People from places where guinea fowl do not roam freely.  People who do not know what a guinea fowl IS.  And then Purple pounces, like a finely tuned avian machine. SQUAWK SQUAWK SQUAWK!
I had no idea.  How would I?  My bird wanders around the property, and “flies” over the fence all the time.  Am I supposed to keep track of his comings and goings, I ask you?  Put a name tag and collar on him?
So one Wednesday in June I was at a local day spa, enjoying my monthly facial with my phone turned off (I did say enjoying, right?).  When I awoke from my massage-induced stupor, I pulled out my phone and saw a screen full of “voicemail & missed call” messages and texts from David and Katherine.  Sweet Jesus.  House on fire? Terrorist attack?  Zombie Apocalypse?  The Rapture?  No.  It was Purple.  He was terrorizing tourists, again. 
The winery owner was totally fed up with the bird “attacking” his customers and wanted one of us to come over immediately to fetch The Winged Menace.  I was unavailable--facial takes priority over a bird any day of the year.  Because David and I are wine club members, the winery had David’s phone number, too.  So he was next on the Phone Tree. 
David is a consummate professional and was in a meeting, but for some kind, generous, accommodating reason he picked up the phone.  “Hello?” he whispered to the unidentified caller.  “Come and get your *&^$ bird off my property this minute!” or something to that effect.  Technically, David lives alone (or has an address where he collects his mail) and has one little doggy.  So, his first thought was, of course, “What bird…?”  He’s a smart cookie, though, and figured it out real quick.
While otherwise pre-disposed in the next county over, David single-handedly had to devise a plan to extract Purple.  He called me a couple times: no answer (facial, duh). He texted me a few times.  Still nothing.  Next, he texted Katherine: “Please go get Purple from the winery next door,” he started.  No answer.  “Plz go get the bird – winery about to call animal control,” David upped his game.  Still no answer.  
In the post-game analysis, Katherine thought David was joking, so she ignored him (“How absurd,” she thought to herself. “It’s just a bird.  Kick it.”).  “KATHERINE!” he pleaded.  She finally texted, “What do you want me to do about it?”  Ugh.  Teens.  She eventually sauntered over there and shooshed Purple over the fence towards home.  The winery could’ve done that, too, she argued. 
Was he really attacking the visitors? Probably not.  He does make a lot of noise and gets close to people, and he is a weird-ass looking creature; but he doesn’t want to touch a person any more than he wants a person to touch him.  Maybe my family is accustomed to ignoring his guinea threats?  Maybe the wine neighbors were irritated that Purple was pecking at the dead bugs in their tire rims, which looks like he’s attacking the car.  At the next wine event that David and I attended, we endured quite a tongue lashing about the “vicious bird” (clip his wings! they demanded). 
We bought a case of 2013 Gewürztraminer and there was peace in the land.  For now. 

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