“Me! Me! Me!” 

His talons wrapped around the perch as he stretched his neck toward me, squawking in irritating harmony with two dozen other guineas. 

“And this is good for me?” I pushed the button twice and tapped the face of my Apple Watch to reveal the decibel meter. 92 decibels. I cringed and set my jaw. “You can do this.”

In June, I learned the hard way that I better protect my hands and arms with gloves and long sleeves despite the summer heat. Twice punctured by talons seeking a stable landing spot. My hand. My arm. Blood and anger flowed both times. “Geez. You spend so much time planning for what’ll go wrong and now this?”

These guineas are wired wild, nothing like chickens other than they have feathers and they lay eggs. But this one guy had a really weird beak. A top beak that grows faster than the bottom beak. It earned him the distinction of being easily recognizable and being named. Billybeak. 

“Do birds have birth defects?” I wondered if it kept growing like this, would I have to clip it? And to do that I would have to catch him and hold him. How could I do that without totally freaking him out?

That’s when I hatched this idea to hand feed him and slowly let him get used to being touched as he ate.

Last Friday morning I headed over to feed the guineas as part of the chores here. First the horses and sheep and donkeys, then the guineas and the goats. 

I’d been feeding Billybeak and touching his feet and legs and occasionally stroking his belly feathers while he chowed down on the millet. Apparently guineas learn by watching like so many species and I had quite the crew waiting for me when I opened the door to their coop. Billybeak and a guinea hen on the right and The Mauraders on the left—three guineas voicing their demands for the easy-access millet treats.  

As I said before, I’d already learned to protect my hands and arms and was prepared with heavy gloves and the thick long sleeves of my it’s-late-November jacket when I scooped some millet into the plastic cup and held it out to Billybeak. Always offer first to the one with a name, the one with a disability that caused him to be picked on by his flock mates. I felt sorry for him. Which caused me to grow some distorted attachment based on he needs my help.

After he and his guinea hen friend bobbed and pecked and consumed some millet, I turned to The Marauders and offered them their go at the irresistible morsels. “Easy there,” as I moved the cup between the three, intending to give each of them fair access which was foolish because the one in the middle gets his head in to eat with the ones on both sides of him. I tried my best to bring the cup close enough so they wouldn’t lose their balance. But wearing my protective gear left me off guard and my former caution slipped into an inappropriate fantasy. “Hmm. Can I train you to stand on my arm and eat from the cup?”

“Owwww!!” My arms flailed but too late to interrupt someone’s effort to land on my head. “Shit! NOOOOO! Dammit!!” My hand flew to my face where sliced skin launched my screams of fear and fury even before the pain registered. 

I gingerly ran my still-gloved finger along my nose to assess. “Blood?” I didn’t see any as I inspected my gloved hand. “That’s it! I’m done with hand feeding you guys treats. Done!” I stormed off. That’s what a fresh injury will do: bring on a rush of resolve.  

Two days later, despite the scabs just starting to form over my eyebrow, along my nose, and on my chin, I was back at it. With a stance I learned in martial arts once upon a time: arm raised and hand stationed as a barrier between birds and my face. Shaking my head I wondered, “How come I’ll risk getting hurt for the sake of pleasing this misshapen weirdo of a prehistoric winged creature? Is this how big my concern for the underdog is?”


Add yours →

  1. Ouch! Do they roost in a coop like chickens? I would go in after sundown with a towel. Capture him and trim the beak.

  2. I get it … all of it. I think it determination to do the right thing and there’s worse obsessions to have. Sending love

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