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New bird on the block

August 18, 2010

Ghedi announced his arrival last spring, when I was woken one morning by loud bird chatter that I had never heard before. A particularly obnoxious crow or starling? I wondered. Soon afterward, I spotted an odd-looking wild turkey in my backyard, which occasionally attracts the critters.

I mentioned the bird sighting to my husband, who wondered whether the turkey he had dubbed Hedda Gobbler had returned for a visit after an absence of a year or so. But when my husband saw the newcomer, he suspected it was some kind of peacock or pheasant and searched the Web to learn more. Turns out he was half-right: the creature was a Guinea fowl, which are related to pheasants and native to Africa.

Our visitor had all the characteristics of a helmeted Guinea fowl: white-speckled gray feathers, black, slightly bulging eyes, white patches on its face that resemble a clay mask and tomato-red wattles drooping from each cheek. Seen close up and face front, the wattles look like curled tulip petals – a feature that I consider its funniest and most endearing.

Until Ghedi arrived, I had never heard of Guinea fowl. But it turns out that Americans with small farms or leafy suburban tracts have been raising them for years because they eat ticks, including the Lyme disease-carrying deer ticks all too common to my area. Gardeners also like to have them around to scarf down bugs prone to feasting on their flower beds. (In some countries, people raise Guineas for food — and even some American restaurants feature the animal on their menus. Hurts me to even contemplate that.)

A cottage industry has been built around Guineas. There are books, websites, message boards and national and international groups devoted to the birds, such as the Guinea Fowl Breeders Association.

We have no idea where our resident Guinea fowl came from. Most likely, he’s an escapee from a nearby orchard or small farm or possibly, from the property of a homeowner who was keeping him as a tick-eating machine.

I initially dubbed the poor bird “Gertrude” because a) the subdued colors of its feathers led me to believe it was female, and b) that moniker seemed to suit its frumpy appearance and nervous manner. Conducting some Internet research of my own, I learned that Gertrude was actually a male helmeted Guinea fowl, which make a raucous chi-chi-chi call when alarmed (something that happens to Ghedi at least three times a day, typically starting around dawn), while females make a “buck-wheat, buck-wheat” sound. The website of the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Connecticut, has some good information on the species.

Ghedi, it turns out, has a repertoire of sounds. As he hightails across my street from one residential property to another, he makes a duck-like cackle punctuated with a “honk” that sounds like an old-fashioned bicycle horn. When spooked, he emits high-pitched little beeps and whistles.

Although Ghedi sometimes strolls close to me during his wanderings through my backyard, he is easily spooked — so much so that I can’t manage to get a decent photo of him. Whenever I approach him with my camera, he acts as though I’m a paparazzo aiming for a celebrity shot to sell to People magazine. He takes off in the other direction as fast as its four-toed claws can carry him, disappearing behind the hedges bordering my neighbor’s property.

Another fun fact: Guineas apparently are vain creatures that like to gaze at themselves in mirrors (and who could blame them?). Maybe I should put a big mirror on my patio and wait, camera at the ready, for Ghedi to check out his reflection. Then I could get a shot of two birds at once…

Why the name, Ghedi, you’re wondering? Because of the bird’s African heritage, an African appellation only seemed right. I found Ghedi — pronounced GEH-dee — on several online lists of African names. It’s a male Somali name meaning “traveler,” at least according to lists like those at this site. This also seemed appropriate, given the bird’s wanderlust.

Whether Ghedi can safely tool around these southeastern New York environs come winter, I have no idea. Some Guinea fowl experts say the birds should be sheltered from extreme weather, and a member of one association told my husband that we should try to capture the bird before winter. Capture Ghedi? I don’t think so. The little guy is a sprinter!

More important, he’s an extremely entertaining addition to the neighborhood. But if he’s still hanging out here in the fall, I’ll contact some local wildlife experts and ask whether they can try to corral Ghedi. There will be one condition: he gets to escape again next spring.

© Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, 2010-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including original photographs, without express and written permission from this blog’s author are strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janice Leary and My Point Exactly with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. sandysays1 permalink
    August 24, 2010 8:10 am

    Living in south Florida our weather supports these birds and a colony of peacocks that have established themselves here. People feed them and that makes the birds completely unafraid of humans. From my prospective they’re fun to chase.

  2. Kate permalink
    September 3, 2010 7:03 pm

    Love your blog on Ghedi! Have never seen one. Good for you! Thanks for the picture and story.

    Ted and I are avid birders (me traveling the world over to see them and Ted being a backyard birder and happy to accompany me in enjoying the discovery of new species.) Currently we have Mr. and Mrs. Big Red in our back yard (which are actually male and female red-bellied woodpeckers), which are interesting to watch. They don’t have red bellies at all, but instead red stripes on their head. A full red-headed woodpecker, like Woody Woodpecker, I have only seen in NH and in FLA. Keep us posted about Ghedi’s adventures in your backyard.

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