Two guinea moms who have been tag team partners in building a nest, laying their eggs, and now hovering over their newly hatched keets, have had a long slog. They arrived in the yard one evening three weeks ago with what can only be described as “a mess o’keets!” A brown mass of twenty-some tiny guineas, barely bigger than bumblebees, was flowing through the “forest” of grass near the garden shed. All were striving valiantly to keep up with the two guinea moms leading the parade, their little stick legs pumping hard and heads bobbing just above the overgrown grass which had not been cut in a week.
Our consternation at the sheer volume of babies was heightened by the knowledge we had no control over the situation. Previous attempts to capture the keets and raise them in the brooder house have met with mixed results. The guinea hens wanted desperately to escape the confines of the brooder house and had to be turned loose, sans babies. We raised healthy birds, but their knowledge for survival and ability to assimilate with the older guineas was inhibited. Not to mention, trying to catch the little devils is about as easy as trying to catch a baby pronghorn–they are born to run! Vivid memories of thrashing around on the ground with a fishing net or plastic tub to capture and get my hands on the little critters overtook my impulse to “save” them once again.
We created watering stations in a couple of locations where the group entered and exited the yard each day, and left a feeder with chick starter granules thinking the little ones would soon starve without something to eat. We observed they seemed to be eating what the adults ate– insects, spilled seed from the bird feeders, and smaller pieces of scratch grains that we throw to the adult birds. Each day we attempted to get an accurate count and it appeared the group was experiencing some attrition. Each evening the guinea moms would depart for the sagebrush and tall grass outside the boundaries of the yard, taking the little ones with them for the night. They seemed to vary the destination, but we never knew for certain where they spent the night. The rest of the adult guineas roost in a grove of spruce trees inside the yard where they are relatively safe.
The morning this photograph was taken was somewhat depressing. Rosie, our dog had barked incessantly through the night, and several times the guineas roosting in the spruce grove erupted in frantic chatter. I went out with a flashlight but could not detect what was causing the ruckus. Rosie didn’t offer up any useful information, so I went back to bed. Next morning the baby guinea population had been reduced by half. We could do nothing but wring our hands and worry each evening when the little troop traveled into the brush. Predators of all kinds awaited them and have decimated the keets to just two remaining.
Last evening we were enjoying a fire outdoors on the patio and noticed the guineas were behaving differently. They were circling a giant spruce where they roost in the winter months as it affords more protection from the snow and cold. The two remaining keets were attempting to jump onto the low hanging branches of the tree. Round and round they went, leaping and falling and trying again. They now have just enough wing feathers to give them loft and tiny as they are, they finally succeeded in reaching a low branch that allowed them to ascend the tree to higher elevation.
As we watched in amazement, we wondered what prompted the decision to change their routine. Had the keets somehow demonstrated their ability to climb a tree? Did the guinea hens know they were ready? Were they desperate to save the last two keets from harm? The group collectively seemed to know it was time and moved en masse to the giant spruce, circling patiently as the little ones tried their luck at roosting for the first time.
There was no chatter from the giant spruce tree last night. I worried that the little keets would fall out of the tree and tried to imagine how their tiny feet could grasp a branch all night and stay aloft. At dawn, I heard them down on the lawn and went to the window to see if I could find the little ones. They were grazing in the grass with the rest, hopping and strutting along as they embraced a new day. Their trials and tribulations are not yet over and as the flock departs for the day, they will have to cover the same ground that stretches for over a mile of sagebrush prairie and tall grasses in the creek bottom, catching grasshoppers and whatever else they can find for a meal on the move. Hopefully they will all return this evening to roost safely for the night.