Monday, March 12, 2012

A Young Pea's Fancy Turns to Love


It’s EXACTLY like Tennyson said here on the Row: In the Spring a young peacock's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.


Our pea-flock is holding steady at 13. The pea-massacre stopped (after some critter or critters took 16 birds since last fall), and I think I know why. A few weeks ago, someone nearby shot a doe. She ran into our shelterbelt to die, which makes me sad (thank the Universe I didn’t know right away, or you can bet I’d have been out there with gauze, a pillow, Polysporin, tweezers, a canteen and my surgical suture kit). But it was also a prairie kindness. Over the next couple of weeks, we watched the deer carcass disappear bit by bit. It had been dragged from the grass onto the trail, then ten feet down the trail, then another few feet into the tall grass—kinda made us think our critter may have been coyotes (plural), to drag a full-grown doe that far. Anyway, there’s hardly a sign she was ever here, except for a few bones and tufts of whitetail fur. We think this deer distracted and fed the varmints that had previously been feasting on peacocks.

So the peas are fattening up at their all-you-can-eat corn & cat food buffet, and they’re up to their spring tricks. Our yard is not unlike a giant singles bar. We have 4 breeding males (the ones with the long train feathers) divvying up the peadom into quadrants. They occasionally pick fights. Or they chase each other in circles around a tree, pump, pergola, car, etc., then face off for mid-air sparring with shivs...er...bony spurs on their legs. The hens hang back, look bored, fluff their feathers, pick lightly at the snacks, and compare notes on whether the size of a train really matters.

The boys are also doing that amazing peacock mating dance, often just outside our back door on the patio. They raise their trains and spread the feathers, vibrate their train, tail and wing feathers, bow their heads, and high-step…backwards. You can see Francoise doing his dance here, and at the very end of the vid, you can hear the fluttery feather vibrations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31yGZUszW5o). And, of course, the peacocks have all started doing that voodoo they do so well, the infamous mating cry that sounds like an old woman yelling, “HELP! HELP!”

The hens are wearing their “I could care less what you think” brown & buff. If a careless hen wanders too near a displaying male—maybe she’s on her way to the bathroom to check her beakstick—he’ll charge her, madly honking, with his train fully spread & quaking...much like the 20-something guys I’ve seen at our Little Town watering hole. Even our youngest male, with no long train feathers at all, will raise up his tail feathers and strut, while the girls at the birdbath roll their eyes and giggle.

At this point, the hens are smart enough to know that the weather is still too unstable to head out to nest in the tall grass—still too much danger of another heavy snow or a hard freeze. But soon, probably very soon, even their fancies will turn…

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