Notes from Windward: #67


Nature Takes a Toll

Monique takes steps to protect the ducks and guineas

     To me, the seasonal change from fall to winter is usually marked by not much more then a change in weather, which, for my friends and I, means the beginning of ski season. Sure, there are some duties that must be fulfilled around the home, like changing over to snow tires if you live in the mountains, shutting off the outside water facets if you are lucky enough to have a yard, and perhaps cutting back some shrubs in the garden. The shift never really made an impact on my daily life. Here, at Windward, things are a bit more complicated in the most unexpected of ways.

     When I arrived here a month ago, we had a flock of 7 Guinea fowl, that ran free on the property, and 7 Indian runner ducks that lived in a protected enclosure that we call the duck palace. From what I've heard, these arrangements worked very well during the spring, summer and fall. Now the situation is markedly different.


      (This is where the story gets a little graphic)

     Our troubles began a few weeks ago. "Something" was crawling it's way into the duck palace, and taking just the heads off ducks and running with them, leaving the rest of the ducks to look at their buddy's carcass until someone came in and disposed of it. On one occasion, the predator reached in through the enclosure, grabbed the duck by the head, and tried to pull him out through the chicken wire. The ducks are at least twice as big as the wire opening, so the next morning, an unsuspecting intern came across a beheaded duck, guts strewn out, with a its body half forced through the enclosure. Not a pretty site. We have decided that it was a skunk who must have been after the ducks, but we really don't know.

     After all has been done and said, we are now left with just four ducks. A similar situation has occurred with the Guinea fowl flock, although much less gory. At first, we lost one to a ground animal, again, maybe it was the mysterious skunk, but no way to know for sure.

     Throughout the summer, the Guinea fowl had a coup where their feed was kept, and it also ended up being a hiding place. We realized that this safe enclosure might be preventing them from using their instinctual knowledge to hide effectively. We tried to discourage that behavior by moving their feed to an open space, and closing the coup entirely. We were happy to notice that the gunineas quickly learned to roost in the trees.

     Problem solved?!? Well, not quite. The past two nights, we have lost two guinea hens to an animal that leaves no tracks in the snow! We have crows and owls around, so it's not that out of the ordinary, but it does pose an issue of security for the animals. We decided something had to be done!


     Vermadise is our prized greenhouse, where along with worms and plants and a miniature model of our hydroponics system, we also have rabbits and chickens. The logical solution was to move all the birds into this little paradise. First, we introduced the ducks into the chicken run, but they seemed very skittish and it looked as though they weren't eating.

     I decided that they needed to be separated from the chickens, who I thought might be picking on them. I created a little duck palace in the greenhouse, with a covered area and a coup to lay their eggs in. We built a fence around the plants, and hoped that the ducks would leave them alone. One thing we didn't take into consideration was the aquaponics site. After only one day with access to the standing pond with goldfish in it, the ducks changed the clear water into murk, and clogged up the water pump. Back to the chicken coup they had to go.

     Moving the ducks from their enclosure was not that difficult. Walt would corner them and catch them in the net. He'd then hand them over to one of the interns, and off they'd go. The Guinea hens took a little more effort. Although the same principal applied, cornering running birds in an open farm proved to be a big challenge. The beauty of a flock is that everyone wants to stick together, which made it reasonable to catch the first two.

     The last one, on the other hand, gave us a catch to remember. Not only was he a much faster runner then us, but he would take off flying for 200 feet at a time. The Final Trooper Guinea looked extremely awkward and very humorous in flight, and running on the ground, but appearances aside, he also had the advantage of being able to crawl threw wired fences, whereas we had to walk around them. Add to that a sprinting 6 foot tall bearded man with a net and fire in his eyes, and you have yourself a most ridiculous moment.

     Next time, I think I'll go about bird catching differently.

     Perhaps sedation?

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 67