The End of an Era

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

Glen / Glenda

Glen, our last Guinea Fowl, died yesterday. He was a little more than 6 years old. I don’t know if he just died – I’ve seen them keel over with absolutely no warning – or if he had help.

I’ve been told that the Guinea Fowl we raised are domesticated. I wouldn’t really describe them as ‘domesticated’, so much as ‘willing to hang around for the food and shelter’. I tend to think of domesticated as including some degree of tameness, and at least a modicum of tolerance for humans. Guineas have neither, and Glen had neither in the extreme.

He was the only critter on the farm who could truly be described as nasty. It was a good thing he was little – Guineas rarely top 3 lb. – because his two favorite pastimes seemed to be 1) tormenting the ducks by chasing them around, and 2) sneaking up behind people and attacking them when they weren’t looking.

He was quite peculiar though. I should know better by now than to use names like this (one day I’ll tell the story of our geese: Bob, Carol, Ted, and Alice). We named him Glen/Glenda because guineas are notoriously hard to sex. You see he was raised in isolation – the only guinea hatched that summer. It was the same year that B. got her first cockatiel. B would walk around with the cockatiel on her shoulder, while her younger brother M walked around with Glen on his. This was really quite funny, until Glen took an interest in things shiny – like eyes. Then he didn’t get carried on shoulders any more.

He herded the ducks – tried to get in on the fun whenever I was rounding them up. He’d come running from where ever he was, follow me out to the yard and start chasing ducks every time I did. I doubt he was trying to help – guineas are control and order freaks – everything has to be exactly the way they expect it or they get upset. And believe me, when a guinea gets upset, it can make noise all out of proportion to its size. Louder than turkeys, even. My guess is that he was trying to make the ducks go back to where they belonged.

Guineas aren’t very smart – at least not individually. You see, they constitute a “collective”. We started out with 2 guineas and discovered that they could not always remember that they knew how to fly. If they found themselves on opposite sides of a fence it sometimes took several days for them to ‘find’ each other again. They would both run back and forth along the fence-line, quite upset that they had been separated.

You need about a dozen to make one complete, functioning organism. Individually, their brains seem incomplete [I suspect their heads are largely ornamental ]. With a dozen or more, at least one will remember that guineas can fly at any point in time and then when the others see it, they remember too. With enough of them, there’s almost always one who remembers whatever life skill they happen to need at the moment and thus will ensure the survival of the collective.

Glen wasn’t the only one who’d try his hand at herding, although he was certainly the most persistent. Each year when I first let my baby ducks out to the pastures (we have livestock dogs to protect them) the guineas would spend the day trying to herd them back where they belong. Once they get them back where they belong, order has been restored and the guineas loose interest. As soon as the guineas turn their backs the baby ducks come right back out of course and the whole show starts again. The first time I saw this I assumed the guineas were attacking the ducklings but after watching them a while I realized that they weren’t actually pecking at the babies, just “rushing” them to get them to move. They’re not very good herders. They also have short memories (at least for some things). Each time they accomplished their immediate goal of “getting the ducks back in order”, it was like someone turned off a switch in their tiny little brains. They’d stand up straight and look around, like they just woke up and didn’t know where they were. After a minute or so they’d shrug (or shake themselves) and go on about their business like nothing had happened. Then, after a few minutes they’d notice all these ducklings in the wrong place and they’d get upset all over again.

The livestock dogs trust them though because often enough they are right about some potential threat, and when they start their characteristic “There’s something different here!” ruckus, the dogs always come to check it out. But you can almost see the dogs roll their eyes when they arrive and discover it was just some bucket I left in the wrong place.

Our house Rottie reacts when the guineas sound the alarm too.

It’s not all noise and bluff either – I’ve seen then put the run on both foxes and coyotes. Collectively (!) they are quite formidable.

I’ve known them to drown mice – one morning I found 14 dead mice in a 3″ deep bowl of water. Now, I can believe that maybe one or two might end up in the bowl and be unable to climb out, but once there are 5 or 6 floating in that little bowl, it’s really hard to explain how the rest could have drowned without help. There was no-one around except the guineas. All night. With nothing better to do, I guess.

Guineas also have funerals. It’s sad that Glen won’t get to have a proper Guinea Funeral. Of all the guineas, he really deserved one. You see, not only do guineas form collectives, but they also form sub-collectives (like the Borg). So, when 3-of-7 dies, the other members of his/her sub-collective gather around and pay their respects. They line up facing the fallen guinea, and one by one, gently try and nudge their fallen comrade, presumably to see if (s)he might simply be snoozing. Then after a while, they just stand there, making their characteristic inter-collective whistle sounds. Eventually, after 10 or 20 minutes of this the funeral is over and they wander off. Members of other sub-collectives don’t get involved.

If you take the time to watch and get to know them, you find that most creatures are really quite interesting.

It’s unfortunate that my 200th blog post would be about yet another passing (there have been so many this year), but, at least, it’s memorable.

Farewell Glen. You made your mark.

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