Monday, July 4, 2016

Tribute to Lady Dō

I wake before sunrise to the sound of the male Guinea fowl crying his heart out. His brassy, harsh alarm jerks me from sleep with an abrupt start. I don’t think anything of it at the time, but he usually makes this call at dusk after flying up into the branches of the walnut tree on the east side of the house.

From the kitchen window I see he’s just a short distance from where the Guinea hen is nesting. She is hidden under camouflage of blackberry brier just behind the backyard fence. For weeks he’s been hanging close to her nest, ready to act as a diversion for any potential threat. He paces back and forth, pecking at tips of grass and weed, searching for tiny insects, scratching at the sandy topsoil with his powerful claws.


At mid-morning I water the vegetable garden, then decide to check in on the female. Instead of being greeted by the feathery outline of her dark folded wings or the tip of her bright orange beak poking out from under the ground cover, I encounter a grisly crime scene. The nest is empty except for a trail of scattered feathers, remnants of shell, and a smattering of blood. Now I understand the male’s morning (or mourning) call. I had become fast friends with this quirky couple, and now, much like him, I hated to lose her. I wanted to climb onto the tree branch right next to him and cry out loud.

Guinea fowl, or “Dodo birds” (as we have come to call them) are comical in appearance. Dr. Suess spindly-haired spigot of a neck and his brown feathered body plump and loafed like an Airstream trailer writes visiting friend Tania Pryputniewicz in a blog post after her first meeting with the birds. . While there are some serious drawbacks to housing these fowl, on the plus side, they are highly-valued by gardeners as insect-eaters, and praised for their low-maintenance lifestyle.  

Lady Dō and her companion were brought here by a neighbor. As they are free-range birds, they took to our property, roosting nightly in a tree just outside my bedroom window. They went everywhere together during the daytime; he following her tirelessly as she roamed the yard searching for grub. They were connected at the hip, never more than 6” between them, as if joined by a rope. That’s until she began nesting. Now without her, the male appears out of sorts.

Lady Dō’s sudden tragic disappearance puts me in touch with the soft spot of my loss. I miss seeing her round shoulders clad in sheer dark feathers spangled with delicate white polka-dots; her featherless white head decorated with a reddish bony knob.

Yet her dedication to life continues to inspire me. Such a shame that it had to end this way for her, after devoting four full weeks to sitting on her eggs. Yet it was not all in vain. Five eggs were rescued from the ravaged nest, still fully intact, and on the evening of the day she was taken, one of the eggs hatched. The hatchling survived.

Today as a proud Daddy Dō struts through the yard on tip-toe, arching his back, chasing the feral cats away from their dinner plates, I reflect fully on nature's unpredictable circle of life.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mom Robin

She keeps a low profile. It is as if she is drained of color, muted, a faded shy brown. Were it not for the discovery of her ethereal, sky-blue creation, would I have noticed her at all?

I slip out to the garden at sunrise this early June day, as nothing tastes as sweet as morning-picked blueberries. To my surprise mom robin, the early bird, has beaten me here. She is trapped inside the blueberry bush netting, feathers ruffled, wings wet with dew. How long has she been a prisoner? We study each other for a moment, eye to eye, less than an arm's length away. Captive to captor, captured to capturer. I imagine her terror reflected back to her twice from the black mirrors of my pupils.


I gently lift the netting from the bottom up and she flutters, reaches for a space she doesn’t have, an emptiness of air that is no longer there.I hear her wet-feathered wings scraping the confines. I feel her panic. Her desire to return to normal.

It was the lure of the blueberry that brought her here. Too much for her to overlook. How did she manage to get inside, I wonder? It must have been from the bottom up.

The netting is black and fine, invisible to any bird’s eye. This is the first year we have had the need to net the bush. We will replace it with white. 

Just as the netting is rolled up to the top, she flutters once and neatly slips out. Beak first, just beneath the wrinkle of the patterned weave, she is free to ascend to the highest branch of the oak.

In the afternoon I observe her on the shady lawn plucking worms from the moist soil near the garden hose. Everything described about her so far is even more evoked in the brightness of this absorbing task. She forages, gathers, then returns to the nest. In the 40 minutes I spend watching she makes the trip 8-10 times.

The human in me imagines her longing to taste the sweet blueberry fruit. So I make her an offering. A dozen blueberries on a plate, and a few more scattered along the ground.

When the breeze is still for a moment, I believe I can hear the baby birds calling for her to come home.

Mom robin finally finds the plate. To my delight, I watch as she swallows the blueberries down.