By LINDA MOSS
A fast-moving guinea hen is eluding capture by residents and township animal-control officials as skillfully as the Road Runner escaped from Wile E. Coyote in the classic Looney Tunes.
The bird, nicknamed Henrietta by neighborhood children, has been roosting for the past three months or so in the area of Alexander Avenue, off Valley Road.
As the weather has turned cold, Henrietta has taken to sitting on the hood of a vehicle owned by Alexander Avenue resident Kay Richards for warmth, and seems to be surviving quite nicely, even though she permanently scratched the car. But the avian visitor recently wandered onto busy Valley Road where she was seen dodging traffic before being shooed off to safety, prompting fears that she needs to be relocated for her own safety.
Henrietta’s original owner Holly Hunter, a local real estate agent who lives on Macopin Avenue and also owns a farm in Rhode Island, has come forward to claim the feisty fowl. But so far all efforts to catch the guinea hen so she can be reunited with her flock have failed.
“If she would cooperate a little more, we’d love to help her relocate to New England,” said Liz Morgan, acting director of the Montclair Township Animal Shelter.
Last week Morgan and township animal control officer Michele Shiber came to Alexander Road to try to catch Henrietta.
“We spotted her,” Morgan said. “We both had nets. I went around the back of the house, Michele went around the front. She [Henrietta] looked left, looked right, and then took flight. I think she waved, too, like ‘Ha, ha.’”
Guinea hens, also known as guinea fowl, trace their origins to West Africa and have white-dotted feathers and bald heads. They are a domestic breed roughly the size of a chicken that some say make a tasty meal, but they are known for eluding capture.
“Although she is a domestic animal, it’s not like calling Fluffy to come,” Morgan said. “They’re known to be very hard to contain … They go wandering during the day. They dig up grubs and worms and insects and they come to roost at night. They’re independent and hearty birds.”
Morgan plans to make another attempt this week to capture Henrietta. She said that she has contacted other animal-control professionals and the Raptor Trust, a bird shelter in Millington, to get advice on how to catch her.
So far attempts to use bird seed and corn to lure Henrietta into an enclosed area like a garage have failed, according to Morgan.
“She’s fast,” Morgan said. “It’s one thing if you have like let’s say a chicken, where it moves really quick but if it takes flight it’s a couple of feet off the ground. This thing takes flight like a regular bird and has a speed that is unbelievable.”
Hunter said she has joined in the effort to catch her fowl, with her and Shiber this week setting up a nesting area with food in front of the Richards’ home as a trap.
“I think she’s on to us,” Richards said. “I really don’t think she’s going to take the bait.”
Hunter described guinea hens as “free-range roamers” who don’t like to stay penned up, preferring to got out and forage for their food and roost in trees.
According to Hunter she is “delighted” to now know Henrietta’s whereabouts, as the cagey critter has been AWOL since September. Hunter received a shipment of 17 day-old guinea hens during the Fourth of July weekend, including Henrietta, which she was temporarily raising in her garage in Montclair.
In September Hunter gathered up the birds to transport them to Rhode Island, but Henrietta escaped. She hid in Hunter’s garage for a time and eventually got out, according to Hunter.
A neighbor who lives on Valley Road, Susan Ross, first met Henrietta about 2 ½ months ago.
“I went into my garage and it flew up at me,” Ross said. “I almost had a heart attack. [At first] I thought it was a turkey. Then I looked at it and thought this is a guinea hen. I know they’re domesticated, and I thought what the hell is it doing here. So I put food out for it and it hung around for a day and then it went away. So I figured whoever owned it had found it or it found its way home.”
But last week Ross spotted the bird near Valley Road, and she decided to take action last week, contacting Montclair Local and Baristanet about Henrietta, and both outlets posted the story on social media. That’s how Hunter found out that the errant bird had been found.
“We hope we can catch her and put her back with her flock,” Hunter said.
Richards said the bird showed up on her block, and in her yard, this summer and that her 2 1/2-year-old son “just loves her.” Neighborhood children have grown attached to the bird as well, according to Richards.