I have now spotted 12 new peachicks. And this morning, when I fed the flock, I counted 15 adults. Add to that the three hens with chicks (who won't come to feed with the flock until the chicks are bigger), and that makes 18, which means we have another interloper who's arrived from who-knows-where. I'm guessing that there's now an LED sign on I-29 advertising Uncannery Row Peafowl Paradise, and that we're starting to pick up fly-by's.
Peachicks have about a 75-80% mortality rate here at the Row (cats, raccoons, redtail hawks & turkey vultures, negligent moms, storms, etc.). This is proof of Mother Universe's sublime wisdom, because without it, we'd be up to 30 peacocks right now. And that would surely signal a threshold beyond which I begin to tuck peafeathers in my belt, give up human speech in favor of loud honks and screaming calls, drop all my long hair in late summer, and wander the pasture all day, pecking at clover & grasshoppers.
We live on seven acres of prairie here at the Row. A couple acres of that is house, outbuildings and lawn. The rest is wild pasture, in which we’ve mowed an elaborate system of walking trails and two tent circles (one large circle, where I hope to someday put a tipi when I’ve save enough for a kit). It’s a beautiful, meditative walk that takes one past the original 1800’s homestead house – now hunched over and leaning toward earth – around the meditation tower & dog pond (dry in the summer), and then along crisscrossing trails through an open field of mixed grasses or in the shade of a shelterbelt. In the summer, when the milkweed blooms, the monarch butterflies dance along the trail, and one can see depressions where the deer have slept the night before.
My ultimate goal is to create by mowing, with hedges or with rocks, a labyrinth big enough to walk. I’m not sure what it is about labyrinths that fascinates me so; maybe it’s the idea of walking toward the center, the heart, which seems a good metaphor for a path I think we should ALL be on – a path toward self-discovery. So I’ve got the pasture labyrinth on my 10-year plan. In the meantime, here’s a labyrinth poem…
This is more than anyone wants to know about peacocks, but... Our flock includes 17 undomesticated adults with free run of our seven acres. We don't pen, corral, catch, vet or mess with them except to throw food out in the backyard every couple of days (okay...Ray might also put a brooding lamp up in the loafing shed rafters in the winter for the most brutally cold nights, when the peas will forsake their Roosting Tree for the less-windy rafters).
Peacock procreation is a delicate art that begins as soon as spring crocus (crocuses? croci? crocii?) peek through the snow. Our four adult males divvied up the farmyard into peadoms: Francois by the north fence, Ramon on the patio, Junior by the south fence, and Zorro, the youngest, in front of the greenhouse windows where he could admire himself. Then the show began: They fanned, thrummed, did the backward dance. You can watch Ramon here...toward the end of the video, you'll hear the vibrating train, a sound like ocean waves: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31yGZUszW5o
By the first of June, half a dozen hens wandered off to nest. Peahens don’t build nests; they nest on the ground, tamping down a depression in brush or grass tall enough to hide them. They’re absolutely silent on the nest, so we only find nest locations by accident (except for silly young hens who try to nest in window wells).
One day in early June, however, all the nesting hens came back into the yard amid a loud pea-ruckus. For the next three days, the flock hunkered around the greenhouse and wouldn’t go beyond the yard. Clearly, some sort of critter had gotten all the eggs (hens won’t leave eggs except under threat of death), and whatever it was, it had scared the whole flock silly. Our neighbor down the road said he’d been having stare-downs across a field with a female coyote and had heard pups recently, so Coyote Mom could be the culprit. Raccoons will steal eggs if they get a chance, but a protective, unconfined peahen—the size of a wild turkey, with a sharp beak, talons, and horned “spurs” on their legs—can generally scare off a raccoon. Foxes will take eggs, but they’re also small enough to be intimidated by an angry hen. We found a burrow opening in the south pasture, so badger is a possibility. We don’t keep a gun here on Pacifist Acres, so I dumped cayenne in the burrow, gave the invisible critter a good talking-to, and we hoped for the best.
Apparently my scolding worked, because the males put their dancing shoes back on, and around the end of June, the hens bravely headed back out to the pasture to re-nest.
In a typical year, hatching/nestling goes like this: (1) Eggs hatch around the first of July. In the evening of about day 2, Mom goes up a tree and calls the chicks. They stumble, cry, and eventually, fly up into the tree, where Mom clucks until all the chicks are tucked under her wings and invisible to passersby. They roost like this every night for a while. (2) Around the 2nd week of July, hens begin skirting the outer farmyard fences, trailing fluffy, scurrying chicks (like chicken chicks with long necks). I stand on the patio with binoculars, swatting mosquitos. After a couple days, the hen will let curious non-nester flock members within 10 feet for a look-see before she hurries the chicks back into tall brush. She will take them back to the hatchling roosting tree every night. (3) By the end of July, Mom and chicks are foraging the farmyard, strolling through the yard, and up by the house for the pea banquets provided by She Who Gives Corn, and they’re roosting in a tree within the fenceline now. (4) By mid-August, Mom and chicks have rejoined the flock, and all are now nesting in the communal Roosting Tree 20 feet from our house, within the safe all-night glow of our yard light.
But this is not a typical year. Mystery critter threw everything off. The males are dropping feathers as usual—they drop all long train feathers at once, within a 2-week period as soon as breeding is done; next spring's new train has already started and will grow all winter. But unlike other years, they're still trying in vain to display with scraggly, gapped trains, as if the breeding cycle hasn’t ended. (Note: Like humans, females control breeding, either through invitation/initiation or through snubbery.) And there’s no sign of chicks yet, which means if they hatch now and survive the first two weeks (always the trickiest time), they'll have a rough go packing on the size/weight they’ll need to survive their first South Dakota winter.
I’m trying to see this year as Nature’s wise & patient answer to my meddling. (Note: Regular feedings of corn, sunflower, and Walmart cat food exponentially increase pea-breeding success—there were six peacocks here when we bought the place five years ago.) Even if not a single chick survives this year, our little Row will still have peacocks a’plenty…a plethora of peas…we’ll still be a virtual pea paradise…a peadise, if you will. Or, wait a minute! I could bring the chicks inside, knit them little neckwarmers, feed them couscous and tofu…