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 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: 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…


  1. Even though I know how "challenged" they are, I think they are just magnificent.

  2. I love when you write about your peas. We now have one male for our two hens and Balthazar has been displaying numerous times each day. Butter runs over to him and hangs out while he flutters his tail feathers, shakes his rattles and tries to enclose her in his forward-leaning fan of feathers.

    Bibi never really shows any interest in Balthazar's displays. She happily hangs out with the chickens. But I noticed a ruffled feather on her back that looks to me like Balthazar has had his way with her. If I find any eggs, they could be potential chicks.

    The big question remains as to whether we want more than three peas to add to our flock of 39 chickens.

  3. I wrote the posting above and would like to share what has happened and ask for some advice. Bibi passed away while we were on vacation two weeks ago and all that's left are Butter and Balthazar. Butter started sitting on eggs about two weeks ago (4 of them) and knowing that she and Balthazar were mating, I believe they are fertile. Because we lost Bibi, we've decided to let nature have its way and let Butter hatch her babies. The thing is, Butter is nesting at the top of the grain barn on a very wide ledge. She was sitting on the wood, but I put straw around her to give it the feel of a nest. The drop from the ledge is at least 12 feet out the front of the barn and maybe 4 feet to the top of a wood pile in the back of a large truck on the inside of the barn. Do you think the chicks have a chance up there? We're going to put a makeshift surround up there so that when they're newly born, they'll have a safe enclosure. But how will they get down from there? Should we take them down ourselves after a couple of days? If we put them on the ground, the chickens will peck them. I don't want to inundate you with questions, but any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! :-)

  4. Howdy. I'm not sure how much luck you'll have with her nesting high up. All of our peahens nest on the ground - I've never seen one try to go up high to nest. And as soon as the chicks hatch, a hen will typically leave the nest, calling to the chicks to follow, and will keep them moving, teaching them how to forage. We had a hen one year nest in a deep window well. When she had two chicks, she left the nest, and the next two chicks to hatch were too small to make it out of the window well. We tried taking them out ourselves and placing them out where we thought the hen might hear them, but she would never come back for them and they were gone the next morning. This is just me, but I wouldn't try too hard to modify the nest or devise solutions. I would take a hands-off approach and let her figure it out. One consolation is that the chicks can fly from the time they hatch, so if they flutter to the ground, the hen will probably go down to them, though she may abandon any chicks remaining in the nest. The hen will learn, eventually. Sorry I can't be more help than that, and best of luck!

  5. Thank you so much. And I really appreciate your prompt reply. :-)