Guineafowl chicks hatched by peahens

Blue and her Guineafowl chicks at Broofield Zoo in summer of 2011. (Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society)
August 2, 2011 3:31:30 PM PDT
Birds of a feather flock together. And at Brookfield Zoo, birds not of a feather do as well.

Two Indian peahens are standing in as surrogate moms for several Guineafowl chicks, hatched in two clutches on July 7 and July 14. Those female peacocks, called peahens -- "Feta" and "Blue" -- incubated the chicks and have been caring for them -- even though the chicks look, act and sound nothing like them.

"Once the guinea fowl eggs were laid, we had some peahens that were sitting on their own eggs and we just slipped these eggs under them and they had no clue," Tim Snyder, curator of birds and reptiles, said.

So when the Guineafowl chicks hatched several weeks ago, they thought they belonged to a peacock family and they followed their two mom everywhere. They're good mothers and are better mothers to the chicks than their real Guineafowl mothers would be.

"When the guinea fowl are threatened with danger the chicks have a tendency to scatter. When peafowl chicks are presented with danger they run to mom for protection," Snyder said.

The danger for free roaming animals at Brookfield Zoo includes trams, cars, pedestrians and the occasional hawk. Feta and Blue are teaching the chicks streetsmarts.

"They're teaching them how to forage. They're teaching them how to stay out of the way of predators," Valyn Dall, Brookfield Zoo keeper, said.

While peacocks strut around and aren't too involved with their kids, the female peahen is in charge of the brood.

"Feta is Miss Bossypants. She did this last year with a clutch of guinea fowl and she was very successful," Dall said.

"The peahen actually what they do is they do all the work raising the chicks. It's all up to the hen to do the chicks. And the male is out wondering around and looking beautiful and getting lots of attention while she's doing all the work," Snyder said.

Switching eggs is not all that uncommon, according to a statement from the zoo. This is Feta's second time as a surrogate to Guineafowl chicks and Blue's first.

Chicago Zoological Society, CZS.org


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