Thursday, 15 October 2015

It's official. Guinea fowl are the most useless parents in the whole world.

A couple of years ago I was defending them against this accusation as our pair hatched 18 young and eventually successfully raised 12. But it's been all downhill since then.
Granted, they sit very well and do a great job of going unnoticed. It often takes me several days to locate their nests when I notice they are no longer sitting on the fence at night. And when it comes to near hatching time, the males defend the nest with gusto.

But they have shown an alarming ability to come off the nest at precisely the wrong time. Last year keets hatched from three of the four nests, but the mums would come off the nest as soon as a few hatched on the first morning. The result was very few young birds indeed.
But more shocking is the parents strict application of Spartan rules i.e. if you can't keep up, then tough. Now, being subtropical in nature, baby guinea fowl are not best suited to Britain's autumnal weather. In particular, long wet grass is deadly to them, for they quickly lose body temperature, become bedraggles and fall off the back of the pack.

One stormy couple of days last year did for most of the keets and we only ended up raising two, both of which had to come inside for part of their early lives.
I'm not too worried about this, but it is a shame and even I feel a tinge of sadness when I find a tiny ball of feathers lying motionless in the grass.

2015 has been decidedly untropical and as a result the guinea fowl were incredibly late laying and sitting. In the end there was one double nest, containing over 50 eggs, in the comfrey bed, a nest containing over 20 eggs in the raspberry patch and, belatedly, a nest containing just 12 eggs in amongst the rugosa roses.

The first two of these were inexplicably abandoned just days before hatching, but the final nest was still being sat upon right up until Sunday morning, when two keets appeared! One was doing a great job keeping up with mum, who was off the nest, but the other was on its side in the grass. I decided to let nature takes its course, but several hours later Sue appeared nestling a tiny bundle of feathers down her top! I suspected this might happen. Let me tell you that baby birds can be surprisingly noisy and, when they have grown a little, just a little whiffy too. Sue's plan was, however, just to get this little keet through its first few days and then to try and put it back with mum. This has worked for us in the past.

Roll on to yesterday morning. The sun was shining, though the easterly wind had a tinge of cool in it. The ivy, such an important late source of pollen, was smothered in buzzing honey bees and there were even a couple of pristine red admirals feeding on it.

Despite this burst of sunshine, the two new keets which I found were abandoned near the nest with mum back sitting. They clearly were not warm enough or strong enough to cover the short distance back to mum. This time it was I who buckled, so we now have three keets in a broody box in the dining room. The fourth bird is nowhere to be seen.

Next year I'm going to be ruthless. If we want more guinea fowl then I shall entrust the eggs to the care of a broody hen and they can be raised in the safety of a run.

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