The guineas burst to freedom last Saturday when I decided I’d had enough of them sitting for hours in their house contemplating the open doors but not venturing forth. It was time to kick my fledglings out of the nest. I entered their coop and with a few strict words and a flap of my windmill arms, they exploded out of the coop and flew into the woods.
Damn. Not exactly the effect I was going for. I figured they just hop out of the coop and stick around, but no such luck. So I spent a couple of hours searching the woods for stray birds, which in their panic had bedded down in the leaves and camouflaged themselves well. Once the birds were all out in the field, I watched them with anxious eyes as they flew back and forth from tree to tree across the property. The distressed birds called to each other, upset to be away from the flock but unsure about how to regroup. I had about given up on them when they managed to all fly out of the woods and fields and down from the trees and collect themselves into a nervous-looking bunch.
Around six in the evening on this stress-filled day, I was worrying how I’d get this rangy coalition back into their coop for the night. Just then my neighbor appeared like an angel riding his mountain bike, which proved to be the perfect tool for the job. With some quick cowboy riding on his part, and copious stick waving on mine, we managed to herd the flock back to their coop where they placidly enough jumped right in, seemingly happy to see their home again. I shut up the coop and heaved a huge sigh of relief before heading inside to pick off countless tiny seed ticks—42 bites in all. No, the irony that I got these birds to control the ticks does not, in fact, escape me.
Last Sunday I tried again, and the whole process went much smoother. The birds came out of the coop on their own, and fourteen of them headed to the far side of the property to play in a dust patch along the fence line. The remaining two snuck off by themselves under the cherry tree and spent the afternoon playing birds and bees. I was able to put them all back into the coop myself by herding them along using two long sticks.
Both yesterday and today the birds again were out free ranging, and I had no problem bringing them back to the coop when I wanted to. They are getting quite good at being herded, and as I teach them how to respond to my movements, they teach me. It’s a minute-by-minute learning process as I try to read them and anticipate their moves. When to walk, when to run, when to speak softly to call them along, how to recognize the moment right before they panic and take flight. Each day that I manage to take 16 birds out of the coop and shut the door on 16 birds later in the evening is a good day for me!