Flocks on the blocks of Millville
MILLVILLE -- There just might be a whole new reason why the chicken crossed the road. For Oscar and Leora Monson and Wayne Iverson of Millville, it is because dusk is falling and the chickens are ready for bed.
Together the neighbors own 30 guinea hens that roam the neighborhood during the day, but come home every night at dusk to sleep.
"They are a novelty in the neighborhood and have become a neighborhood fixture," Iverson said. "They are fun to watch and to have around."
The Monsonıs 14 birds and the Iversonıs 16 associate together during the day as they "go about their business," but separate into their respective flocks at night, Oscar said. He has one white bird, so he can tell which flock is his and which is his neighborıs.
All the birds behave differently, Iverson said.
"They are peculiar," Iverson said. "They have habits and personalities."
The wandering habits of this batch keep the hens busy. They have wandered as far as two blocks from the house, Oscar said, but they always come back at night. Among other places, they have wandered to the elementary school a block away and played with the kids during recess.
"We just like to watch them," Oscar said. "Its fun, theyıre always on the move."
The first time the birds wandered off, Oscar got worried and tried to stop them.
"I had quite a time driving them back," he said.
After that, he decided it was not worth it, and let them wander. To his surprise they always returned to roost, or go to sleep.
At one time 26 birds roosted in the tree outside Iversonıs bedroom window and made lots of racket at all times of the night.
"I would bust them out of that tree three or four times a night," Iverson said.
It took three months of that before Iverson was able to convince the birds to find a new place to roost -- in a tree in Oscarıs front yard.
"At night ours go back in the coupe and Wayneıs go up the tree," Oscar said.
Oscarıs grandchildren have liked to chase the birds, but are disinterested in the pets now.
"They donıt pay too much attention to them anymore," Osar said
Iversonıs children love to watch the birds and are fiercely protective of them, chasing away anyone who bothers the birds.
"Everybody loves the birds," Iverson said. "We love watching them."
Everybody, that is, except Iversonıs father. He lives nearby and hates it when the birds pay him a visit. They go into his basement window wells and peck at the "other bird" they see in the window. On one occasion he had birds pecking at every window in his house.
He also does not appreciate it when the birds dig up his flower beds.
"They are really bad for initially planted plants," Iverson said. "But they are really good for bugs."
The insect population around the neighborhood drops drastically with the birds around, Iverson said.
It all started over six years ago when another neighbor, Lester Don Jessop, bought 11 guinea hens and put them in a coupe in his backyard. When the coupe was open, the hens migrated up the road to the Monsonıs and Iversonıs.
Since then, guinea hens have become a permanent fixture on the west end of Center street.
"I cuss them when thereıs a mess on my sidewalk," Leora said. "But he (Oscar) likes them so much, I let him keep them."
"I just like to watch them," Oscar said with a smile. "Theyıre interesting."
At one point, all of the hens were killed by racoons.
"I felt bad when I lost them," Oscar said.
So a friend bought 31 baby hens for him.
Two years ago, the guinea hens left a "bumper crop of eggs" for Iverson to gather around the neighborhood. He incubated the eggs and hatched about 80 chicks, which he sold, gave away, kept and gave to Oscar.
"We had quite a flock," Oscar said.
Life as a guinea hen is "survival of the fittest," Iverson said. The birds who remain around for the first year or two will be there for quite a while.
"Theyıre dumb birds," Iverson said. "They have a high mortality rate because theyıre so stupid."
Last year the neighbors had 50 birds between them, 25 apiece, but "now they have dwindled down," Oscar said.
"You can lose two or three a month to predators, cars or just stupidity," Iverson said. "They will sit right in the middle of the road and just cackle at you."
They have lost a few birds to cars on the "main road," Iverson said, but the cars on the street the Iversons and Monsons live "stop and wait for them to cross the road."
"Theyıve got the right of way," Oscar said. "Theyıll stop right in front of you."
The birds lay eggs twice a year. The eggs need to incubate 28 days, but after hatching, the chicks donıt survive very long.
"Guinea hens are very poor mothers," Iverson said.
Iverson still likes the birds even though they are "obnoxiously noisy in the morning and at night."
"All of them start cackling," Iverson said. "But I live with it because I like them."
With all their squawking and cackling, the birds make great watch dogs, Oscar said.
"They make quite a noise," he said with a chuckle.
He said although some neighbors have complained somewhat because of the noise, no one has really made a big deal about it.
It is not uncommon for cars to drive by and come back to look at the hens, Oscar said. Many people take pictures of them.
Iverson gets calls "all the time" from people asking, "Are you the guinea hen guy?"
"I could probably sell most of the chickens," Iverson said. "There seems to be a big demand for them."
So this year, he plans to leave a dozen of the hens in the coupe and force them to lay eggs he can incubate to "get some chicks going."
Neither the Monsonıs or the Iversonıs are interested in the hens for dinner.
"Weıve had them for pets for so long, I canıt stand to eat them," Leora said.