Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Guinea Saga 3.1


That, incidentally, is what you ask your subjects to say when you are photographing people; not "cheese".

Works every time.  And some of the resulting photos are good for blackmail.

So far as I have been able to tell, all the guinea experts out there keep saying that distinguishing male from female guinea fowl is just plain hard.

What they come down to is; the males "tend" to be a little bigger than the females.  The males' wattle "tends" to be bigger than the females.  And only the female makes the distinctive "two-note" call, variously described as "buck-wheat!"  "good luck!"  or "come back!"  I'm afraid it sounds to me like "ba- gawwk!"

All of those things seem to be true- but rarely will they let you look at a bird for 10 seconds, at 20 feet, and say "that's a male."  Or female- since they definitely are not ba-gawwking all the time.

There are multiple reasons why you would like to know the sex of your birds; if you're keeping them primarily for eggs, it's simple- the males don't lay any.


Or if you're keeping them for meat- you want to know which are the young males, so you can regulate the sex ratio in the permanent flock.  Etc.

They don't grow a noticeable difference in size of wattle or size of bird, until after you may be wanting to choose some for meat.  And the ba-gawwk is very temporary.  "That one is female!"  you know.  Until you turn your back, and she mixes into the flock, and stops calling.  Plus, the fact that this one is female, does not mean that one is male.

It would just be really nice to be able to tell.

I once did a summer-long formal ethological study of black terns- a circumboreal freshwater marsh nesting species.  I'm also the only person I know who has ever raised common terns to adulthood from the egg; or who has fledged, raised, and released a clutch of chimney swifts.  Point being- I've spent a lot of hours looking intensely at birds.

The more I watch the guineas, and read up on them; the more convinced I am that - nobody has ever spent much time looking at the behavior of these birds.

Lots of people call them "dumb"- and I see no evidence of that whatsoever.  They aren't people- or chickens.  They're guineas, and pretty darn good at it.  Probably better at being guineas than chickens are at being chickens.  If you can follow that.

So- I was saying this to Spice, and discussing what we know and don't, and got her looking for new clues to the guineas too.

And probably because she is NOT a trained bird person- she saw one.  She described it in a silly, unprofessional, girly way- "I think the females have this hump on their back!" - which made no sense at all, to me.

After some weeks of trained, professional observation, I can state- the females have this kinda hump, on their back.  :-)

Here is a bunch of guineas - and as you can see, there's not much to differentiate.

Below is a male.

And here, below, (Fanfare noises)  is a female; showing the "hump".

There is, of course, no "hump" (silly girl, birds don't have humps!)  What you are seeing is that the male folds his wings high; on top of the rump feathers (that's their technical name), so the the rump feathers are concealed;  and the female tucks her wings under the edge of the rump feathers; so the rump feathers fluff up and are - if you're looking- emphasized.

Above is a lavender male, and his purple female mate;

And above here is a pearl male, and his lavender female.  Obvious as all hell, ain't it!  Except, as far as I can tell, nobody has ever noticed it before.  Until Spice did.  I was busy looking at their heads- because that's commonly where gender differences appear.  Spice didn't know any better so the damn fool just looked at the whole bird.


:-)  Smart girl, my Spice.

Next question- yeah?  And how consistent is this?

The answer seems to be- pretty darn consistent.  Depending.  In the morning, when the birds are first let out of the coop- it's 100%.  Really.  At noon, it's around 90%- a few males are holding their wings lower.  And in later afternoon, it starts to look like all the birds may be female.  But if you watch; you'll see some birds shifting their wing position from female to male- and some birds that keep their wings in the female position.

Once you're used to seeing it- it's really obvious; and extremely useful.  Take a look at photo number one up there now- 3 females; 3 males; really obvious; interesting formation.  You can learn to automatically factor in the time of day, state of the birds.  Since seeing this; I'm now of the opinion that when the birds are first released, they do not form pairs immediately, but rather spread out kind of chaotically, with a huge amount of male-male chasing going on.  A few hours later, I see all the birds in male-female pairs.  Female in front when calm; male in front when agitated.  A couple hours later- I see a lot of single sex small groups - 3 females foraging together; 4 males and one female off in a different direction; no chasing or fussing.

I'm kind of longing for a day when I could just take my binoculars, and notebook, and watch them all day; seriously.

Looking at some older movies of the guineas, it seems that before the helmet and wattles appear, they're not showing this sexual variation in wing position; so how useful it is for sexing young birds remains to be seen.

It varies with the time of day.  And age.  I'll bet it varies with the season, too.  We'll see.


Update on the eggs; we're still getting 3-4 new eggs a day; and it seems they are spending more and more time sitting on the nest; today, the eggs have been quite warm when checked, all day.  Yesterday- not so much.  As soon as they are sitting seriously, we're going to swap in a set of fresh eggs; all guineas; and all laid in the coop after the sitting started.  Doing a little selection for laying where it's convenient.  I'm pretty sure some of them are laying in another nest- not in the coop.

It's possible it's our fault they started going "broody".  Somehow I didn't get it that one of the reasons for collecting eggs multiple times a day can be to help interrupt broodiness.  We did, when they first started to lay, collect 3 and 4 times a day.  It was such fun!  Then- of course it got to be a chore.  And we wound up collecting once a day, a couple days in a row.  Why not?

Because- visual cues are known to cause hormonal shifts in birds.  When we collected 3 times a day; mostly the birds were looking at 3 to 6 eggs.  When we collected once a day- for most of the day they were looking at 8-12 eggs.  And that might quite easily be enough to trigger broodiness.  "Full clutch; time to sit!"


Nancy M. said...

Tomorrow I am going to look at my guineas and see if this is right. I know I have 2 male and 1 female, and 1 that may or may not be dead? It will be neat to see if that is correct. I have never noticed it, but I'm not a big noticer.

heidi said...

brilliant! ...and you can always do what the zoo does once they figure these things out - put yellow leg bands on the males and pink ones on the females ;-)

50sgal said...

I adore guinea hens and would love some, but they are too loud for my suburban setting, but I do have four hens one rooster and 12 chicks brooding in my basement. I just discovered your blog and am interested to read through. I am living in 1955 this year as a project and am finding many of the things I need to do to be green before there was a 'green'. Lovely guineas! I really want a peacock, but they, too, are rather loud!

Anonymous said...

Guinea fowl reading:
Guinea fowl of the world

RC said...

Well Greenpa, I haven't checked over here at Guineaville in quite a while, but I see you fairly often over at TAE. When I was one of the persons encouraging you to go Guinea, I was sure you would like these great birds, but your enthusiasm outdoes what I anticipated. BTW, you have noticed that info is hard to come by? Well, every damn thing we do here in the tropics has to be found out by asking the old timers, and many of them are just repositories of myths, superstitions and errors, so one has to be careful. Books and internet info are very thin and not often in English or Spanish or French or Portuguese, the languages I can handle in print. But that's life.
So, just because you have been a very nize boy, I am going to tell you another big secret, pal. Get some Chinese Quail and make mini tractors for them. You have my email or can get it from Gallinazo and I will tell you more. We call them Codorniz here. The beauty of the codorniz is that they are always captured, yet they are at work in a free range way, they lay every day, can even be eaten although they are small cute things
{like really small} and they do multiply. They control seeds and tiny insects, just move the tractor once every day or two. They are very good for veggie area prepping, and in the tractor cage, they have no enemies. They are very quiet, they peep only. Terminally cute, young girls love them.
Now that you have the guinea thing up and running, get some Chinese Quail.
Finally, you don't quite say that the guineas are smart birds, or I missed it, but they definitely are.
Yes, they appear to be very goofy, but that is a trick.

Greenpa said...

Nancy M - well?? does it hold up for yours?

Heidi :-) Many thanks. yep, we've got leg bands here, waiting. It's kind of disruptive putting them on, though; and I don't want to disturb them right now. Something you'll be interested in- it's very common now to peek in at the nest- and see TWO birds sitting on the eggs simultaneously. That's really got me piqued.

50sgal - they ARE noisy; though ours are now spending a lot of time being quiet too. I'm seriously thinking about doing a little breeding to cut the noise. Should be possible; but a lot of work. I don't think they need ALL that racket.

EJ - looks great! you do realize that dang book costs $105; used?? I suppose it's possible I might get a copy via interlibrary loan- but- maybe not, too. Thanks for the link, anyway!

RC - re guinea smarts; what I said was " Lots of people call them "dumb"- and I see no evidence of that whatsoever. They aren't people- or chickens. They're guineas, and pretty darn good at it."

True, that's not exactly "they're smart" - but you have to cut me some slack for the science-speak tendencies. No evidence whatsoever for "dumb" can be interpreted as "smart." :-)

Good to know about the quail- but I was traumatized years ago by my cousin's freezer. It was full of - quail. Unsold, uneaten. I'm going to focus on the guineas for a while; we've got a batch of French guinea keets coming in a month; they're supposed to run a pound or 3 heavier, but still totally functional as free range.

Anonymous said...

I did realize the price. I would go for library loan first. But good books are priceless (don't know if this one, tho).