If you would have asked us about our guineas a month ago, we would have described them with a bucket-full of adjectives tinged with irritation. Loud. (we even called them The Louds, inspired by this children’s book) Skittish. Foolish. Stupid. As for their tick-eating abilities, the real reason we invited them to shack up here, we had a vague suspicion that they were helping, but jeered at the claim that 90% of their diet was comprised of bugs. Because they ate a lot of feed.
And if you’ve picked up on my use of the past tense in describing The Louds, you’re rather astute. Because plural is no longer needed when referring to the guineas; now there’s only one. And not because the other nine are in our freezer.
We’ve been robbed. By raccoons. And we caught them red-handed. In case you, like so many we’ve told the story to, thought raccoons to be harmless or vegetarian or at the very least, no threat to poultry, I offer this tale as a public service announcement.
I was deep in the throes of the Twilight* series one night, reading frantically, enjoying the fresh breeze from the open windows. A banging noise outside briefly penetrated the Vampire haze of my awareness and I recognized the chatter of raccoons. No doubt they were getting into the garbage cans again. A few more times the noise persisted, until I thought I heard a chicken cluck. At that point, I jumped out of bed, put my ear to the window, and soon heard a commotion in the chicken coop. I yelled for Andrew, fast asleep, to wake up and raced down the stairs and out to the coop as fast as I could to head off as much damage as possible. Once in the coop, the beam of my flashlight swept the perimeter, assessing the damage. And there, in the chicken-size doorway, was the tell-tale bandit’s mask of a raccoon. Busted. I soon discovered two guineas lying injured on the floor of the coop and that several more birds, chickens included, were missing entirely. We quickly learned that the block of wood we used to haphazardly secure the door shut was easily pushed aside by the string of neighborhood raccoons, lined up for their free chicken dinner. Without our knowing it, the coop had turned into something of a soup kitchen.
You may or may not know that this is a bitter deja vu. Last year too, we donated many from our flock of chicks to the rural raccoon population. How easy it is to be lulled into a false sense of security and let the guard down. We had gotten lazy and overconfident. Again.
So now we have only one guinea remaining. He has been dubbed Vinny, now that he is identifiable and able to be picked out of a lineup. He’s taken to hanging out by our front and back doors, never venturing very far. That bucket-full of adjectives reserved for describing the guineas – it’s been emptied and refilled with endearing exclamations for Vinny, frequent, neighborly greetings, and lots of sympathy. Does he feel all alone? It breaks my heart. Just yesterday I noticed him trying to put some romantic moves on a hen. Is interspecies dating feasible? Allowed? Perhaps Vinny should take out a personal ad or give eHarmony a try.
Brownie, named by Isadora before she had a solid grasp on her colors, is a survivor of that night. Somehow she was bitten in the head and lived to tell the tale. That hit a little too close for comfort; Brownie is the absolute favorite of Daddio, the apple of his eye. In the ranking of his female sweethearts, Brownie sometimes (jokingly) ranks above me and Isadora, so you can understand how it was necessary for me to call in with daily updates on her healing progress. She appears to be just fine and healed up.
And where was Chuck Norris in all of this? Isn’t the rooster reputed to be the appointed one to face off the intruder and sacrifice himself, if necessary, to protect his flock?? Or at least to defend the honor of his lady, as Brownie clearly is? “Where were you, Chuck Norris?” I ask, part disappointed in his apparent cowardice and part relieved that he was unharmed. What are those spurs for, if not to head off would-be assassins? Where is the chivalry?
Despite this, or perhaps because of it all, Penny has stopped roosting in the now safer, fortified walls of the coop. She has a roost someplace we’ve not been able to find yet, out in the open. While that makes her completely vulnerable to all of the furry and winged predators of the night, she’s somehow managed to survive a few weeks on this program. Our last sighting was 2 days ago yesterday, so she’s made it for some time now. I’ve been scratching my head, concocting theories of why she might be doing this. Does she have a nest somewhere that she’s sitting on? Is she afraid to succumb to the vulnerability she’s witnessed in the coop? Is she living at a nearby coop and just visiting us occasionally? We usually only see her in the early mornings. I hope she comes to her senses soon. By this I mean the very, very limited senses our chickens seem to have. Or not have, as the case may be.
* It’s mostly with self-conscious guilty pleasure I admit to my obsession with Twilight. While I’m normally much more of a book snob, it turns out I’m a sucker for a good love story peppered with vampires. Normal daily life was suspended until the series was complete. And now, with no more tales of Bella and Edward to read, I wander lost and hopeless in the world of literature, ruined.