Guinea on nest

We often find Guinea Fowl behavior
We often can’t figure out why
they can’t figure out how
to get back over the fence
they just flew over;
why they pace a fence for hours
rather than flying over it again.
We felt privileged to get to observe
a guinea hen build a nest
among the tall Johnson grass in the corral,
fill it with 20 eggs
and then sit for 28 days
and hatch four.
That was not perplexing,
though wondrous,
and we made a great leap
into expectation
that there would be tiny fuzzy birds
following mamma around,
growing up
to eat lots of ticks and grasshoppers.
But we are perplexed again.
And sad
because the four new keets
are not to be found.
Mamma guinea is back
with the rest of the flock
scouring the pasture for insects during the day
and sleeping in the barn at night.
Last we saw the keets,
the hen and her partner
were with them
near the corral chute.
I happened on them unexpectedly
and she flared her feathers
and flew up at me.
I exited,
glad she was protecting
her fledglings.
But that was the last we saw of them.
We’ve watched mamma guinea closely,
but have not seen her return to the corral.
We have searched the corral,
especially the stand of tall sunflowers,
and found no sign of the keets.
She sat on the nest for 28 days and nights
and when they hatched,
she was looking after them
and they were staying close,
nuzzling themselves
back under her warm girth of feathers.
It is sad to think of her dedication
and loss.
Maybe it wouldn’t be this way
if she were living in her hereditary eco-system
of open or semi-open African savannah.
Or maybe it would.
Maybe Helmeted Guinea Fowl
haven’t yet figured out
how to keep their little ones alive
on the Oklahoma prairie.
Or maybe it’s the same
in Africa.
We wonder.

she is back with the flock,
spending the day in the pasture
feasting on insects.
She has started laying eggs again.
She’s doing what she’s supposed to do
where she is,
being all she is
whether we understand her life
or not.


And then there’s pappa guinea.
After I posted this,
I went back out to the corral to deliver
chard to the rabbits
and a corn cob to the chickens
and heard a call from the corral.
There was a male guinea
(larger “helmet,” larger wattles
and makes a one-syllable call)
standing in the area
where the nest had been
calling and calling and calling and calling.
I assume he was the pappa,
the one standing next to the hen on the nest
much of each day
and beside her as she protected her babes.
They moved them from one area of tall grass
to another.
If they moved them into the open,
more like the African savannah
where the keets would naturally thrive,
the little ones would have been more vulnerable
to predators.
If they moved them into the concealment
of tall grass or sunflowers,
they often die from the cool dampness.
It was a catch-22 for the parents.

And so,
once again,
the guineas are perplexing:
why does mamma guinea go on now,
joining the flock,
and pappa stands in the corral
calling the babes?
It’s heart-breaking,
and yet,
good to know
we don’t know
everything about everything.