Parenting Problems

Nestled under some brush, a determined Edna sits on her eggs.
The desire to reproduce runs strong in most animals. Hank and Edna, our resident guinea fowl are no different. Each day during the spring and summer Edna takes time out of her busy day of eating bugs and seeds to lay an egg. It is a light tan color and slightly smaller than a chicken egg. She returns to the same place day after day. The place is of her choosing, not ours and it’s her secret. She looks for an out-of-the-way spot, because she wants to sit on those eggs and hatch them.  Eventually she will have a clutch of fifteen to twenty-five eggs. It will take around four weeks for the eggs to hatch once she is sitting on the nest if all goes well. But for Edna it has never gone well.

A guinea fowl sitting on a nest day after day and night after night is vulnerable. While the male will stay close during the day offering an element of protection, a loud warning if nothing else, when the day becomes dusk, he heads for the roost up in the pine tree. It is a noisy parting. It almost seems that Hank doesn’t want to leave Edna on her nest on the ground, but his instinct to roost in the trees is as strong as hers are to sit on the nest. In the house, her humans are also turning out the lights and crawling into bed leaving her with no real protection from the unknown nightlife in our neighborhood. We can hear coyotes howls on some nights and we know there are raccoons and possums in the area, but we can only guess what is prowling around in the dark of the night.

Edna’s first nest was in the middle of a poison ivy patch in our neighbor’s yard. She was almost impossible to see as she sat immovable among the green vines. We kept a respectful distance, but a predator had no such inhibitions. One night he moved in. Edna was able to escape but the predator destroyed and ate the eggs.  This did not discourage our guinea pair. It only meant that she would locate a new place for her next batch. We make it our business to try to discover just where the next nest is in hopes that we can somehow prevent another disaster or at least save some of the eggs. 

The Bantam hen was a gentle mother to the little guineas.
A nest right next to the neighbor’s shed, but very near our barn, didn’t seem like the best location. Since she left the nest at least once a day, Mike decided to remove a few of the eggs when she was away. There was a bantam hen in the chicken pen that was showing signs that she would like to set on eggs. Since there is no rooster in the chicken pen, it would be an exercise in futility to set on chicken eggs, but she was more than happy to set on the guinea eggs. She settled in on a nest that was placed in a pen in the barn and sat. And sat. Chicken eggs hatch in three weeks, while guinea eggs will take another week. We wondered if she would give up after three weeks. She was persistent and four keets were hatched. She was a dedicated mother, guiding, nudging and teaching her active hatchlings. The fuzzy keets had orange legs and had interesting combination of their parents coloring. At first it appeared that were just like their  Pearl father with spotted gray and black feathers. But no, they also have white feathers on the lower part of their bodies. After a few months, the young guineas were sold to a farmer.

Waiting on a woman
Edna's clutch of eggs in the day lilies
Last summer Edna found a spot to nest right in the middle of the daylilies that border the vegetable garden. As far as locations go, this one wasn’t too bad. Almost completely hidden in the tall green leaves, it seemed quiet and remote. Hank often waited on the fence while Edna laid her daily egg. Still, we knew that odds were not in her favor and after consulting with a knowledgeable poultry expert, we decided to attempt to move her and her eggs to a safer place inside a fence. The recommendation was pretty specific. Sometime when she was off the nest we were suppose to move the eggs and nesting materials into a container. Mike chose a large plastic tub and made the change. Edna settled right back on her nest without a problem. The next step was a little more difficult. In the dark of the night a blanket should be thrown over her and the nest and mama could be relocated. Alas, things do not always go as planned. Especially when the all-important blanket, so vital in any abduction, was neglected. From the house I heard the unmistakable squawk of an unhappy guinea. Then came the report that during the move she had flown away. Once off the nest, she did not return. To make the best of a bad situation, Mike recruited a red hen from the chicken pen. She too, was eager to set on some eggs. And that's just what she did. During the worst of the brutally hot summer, she sat until four little keets were hatched. 

The red hen was a ferocious mother (which makes photography difficult).
The young guineas now share a pen with several young chickens.

The red hen was a ferocious mother. Come too close and she'd peck you. It was hard to even see the keets because when anyone was close to the pen, she would call her babies to the furthest corner. After a few weeks, the young guineas could take care of themselves and so Mike decided to move the hen back with the other chickens in the conjoining pen. But both the hen and the youngsters made such a racket, that Mike, tough guy though he is, returned the red hen to her charges. 


Can you see Edna under the cedar branches?
Tonight, Edna is again on a nest. This time it is under the one of the cedar trees bordering our property. Autumn is here. The weather is getting colder. This cannot possibly have a happy ending. I have a little talk with Edna. "Edna," I say, "Let it go." She is not listening.




 


Want to read more about Hank and Edna? Click here.
Or here. Or here.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the laugh! :) I love your prose!

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  2. Loved this story and I wish Hank and Edna the best of luck in their reproductive endeavors!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kind comments. There is a follow-up to this story and its rather bittersweet, but yes, there was some success! http://bjs-wildflowermeadow.blogspot.com/2012/09/lonely-no-longer-story-of-our-guinea.html

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