Gordon the guinea fowl

Nattily clad in his Northumberland tartan pyjamas, Gordon makes his way up the elder tree to his sleeping branch

I saw my first guinea fowl at Beamish Open Air Museum, probably twenty-five years ago. They were scurrying around the miner’s cottage, just near to the Methodist chapel, and they even rated a descriptive legend. Apparently they were favourites of mining families, renowned as great conversationalists and rat-chasers — besides which they come with a pair of very tasty legs!

But we could never eat Gordon. He’s a survivor, the only one of his hatch-mates left, after the Beast from the East knocked out a pair who couldn’t figure out how to fly over the snow from their roost to the food table, and after Earnest the neighbour’s pea cock jumped the last female and broke both her legs. It’s a rough old life up in the high fellsides of Sparty Lea. We never did find out how the other three birds died.

The last guinea chick of eight to emerge, from the clutch of 12 we got from a farm up Morpeth way, came out with a club foot. Byron seemed game though, and clumped his merry way through life until he grew just too tall for his legs to support him, and out they splayed. That one I had to dispatch humanely. So only Gordon is left.

Carrie says he reminds her of early childhood in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), where guinea fowl are indigenous, and his endless chatter fills the day. He perambulates from early awakening to his post at the porch door, where he tap-tap-taps for his ration of mealworms, and then on around the house, calling in at the neighbours, inspecting the garden from any of the three gates, chatting with the ducks, and remonstrating with Plough who heedlessly munches what grass he can pull between his worn-out teeth.

Plough eagerly pulls a clump of lovely lawn grass while Gordon cackles in alarm

They say that a guinea fowl flock is the best sort of visitor alert you can have, since nothing escapes their attention. That may be true, but if you listened to every set of alarm cries Gordon alone sends out, you’d be a nervous wreck before lunch!

I’ve been trying to photograph Gordon since I got the zoom lens, and I couldn’t make anything work. Finally I captured him in the early evening, as he headed for bed, in between his end-of-day rituals of scratching and preening. He doesn’t really need any more of a story than this, to be honest, as he is a bird of very little brain.

But his antics brighten up our days; we love him dearly.

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