Fowl screeching clips wings

Last updated 05:00 16/11/2012
NERVOUS MOMENTS: The flock check out the news arrival.

NERVOUS MOMENTS: The flock checks out the news arrival.

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Remember the ugly duckling? I once knew a guinea fowl which reminded me of that story.

When living at Pukerua Bay, north of Wellington, we owned a hen named Sally. Every so often she went clucky and protested angrily if we tried to take her eggs away. But we knew they'd never hatch - we didn't own a rooster.

We went in search of fertile eggs for her, and found an obliging farmer. Not all the batch were hen eggs. Two had been laid by guinea fowl and we were told to put them under the hen a week before the other eggs as they would take four weeks to hatch rather than the usual three.

Sally's red beady eyes glared furiously as we approached. We took away her latest useless egg and replaced it with the two guinea fowl eggs. A week later we added the fertile hens' eggs. Sally sat on, getting off her nest only for brief feeding or toilet needs. Finally the eggs began to crack open.

Both guinea fowl eggs hatched, and most of the hens' eggs. Five or six fluffy yellow chicks ... and two tawny brown creatures. The yellow chicks grew fast and, as time went on, they became tame; we could pick them up quite easily. But not the guinea fowl chicks. Brought up by the same foster mother, they ran away if we drew near.

Sadly, a neighbour's pet ferret killed one. We called the remaining one Peanut -  because of its small head and apparently peanut sized brain. Shy and scatty, it had a voice of its own - an incredibly irritating voice.
Its open mouth emitted a noise like a rusty circular saw, driving us and the neighbours crazy. There was no way of shutting it up; it was a menace.

Something had to be done. We couldn't keep this bird. We were in despair - until Reikorangi Potteries came to the rescue. Situated on a winding, secluded country road, this wildlife park already had a flock of guinea fowl. These birds seemed to keep to themselves, roaming the back paddocks and along the river bank without annoying anyone.

It took a while but we managed to corner and grab Peanut. Once at Reikorangi, it was placed in an outsized coop in the middle of a paddock and we watched as the other guinea fowl swooped in to inspect the new arrival. As Peanut continued the circular saw imitation, we left for home and hoped all would be well.

We'd learnt something at Reikorangi - Peanut was a female guinea fowl. And the dreadful noise wasn't typical, we were told. Guinea fowl generally make a noise only if danger threatens, somewhat like guard dogs.

We returned a week later to find Peanut out of her coop. She was mooching around with the domestic hens and roosters that had free range near the house. These companions were the type of birds she'd grown up with, and we could hear her rasping saw-tooth voice.

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We went back several times and there she was, still on the outer, new kid in the playground. And the horrid noise continued. We were afraid her new owners, Wilf and Janet Wright, would be tired of listening to her, so close to the house, but they assured us she hadn't outstayed her welcome. She'd settle in.

It was several months before we went to Reikorangi again. The hens and roosters were scratching around in the dust as usual but there was no sign of Peanut. 'They've got tired of her at last, or maybe another bird has killed her,'' I thought. I was sad but that's life.

''I see that Peanut's gone,'' I said. Wilf just laughed and showed me the paddocks beside the river. ''Your guinea fowl's with the rest of the flock now, she made up her mind that that's where she belongs.''

I couldn't tell Peanut from the others. Her relentless voice would have told me which she was, but she no longer made that noise. Now she was just part of the flock, content to roam around with the others. Peaceful and quiet.

Did the other guinea fowl persuade her that she was one of them? However it happened, Peanut had found her own kind at last. I never saw her again after that.

It occurred to me that Peanut's horrible call had been her way of expressing her angst - she didn't know who or what she was. Like the ugly duckling, she grew up knowing she was different. She settled down only when she found her true family.

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