The Secret Life of Poultry: Papua the Wonder Fowl
A video went viral recently of a woman running a dog agility course with a guinea fowl. When I saw it I was awed, because I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I needed to know more and promptly got into contact with the person in the video, Emily Autumns, who is the owner and trainer of the guinea in the video.
Emily lives in Sussex and she and her partner Steven are falconers. They raise highly trained birds of prey to fly at demonstrations and educational shows. Local farmers are well acquainted with Emily, and occasionally call them when they have a bird they need culled and fed to the wild birds of prey. Back in April 2015, Steven left to pick up a guinea fowl for this reason.
At the time Steven was under the impression that it was an adult bird. He told Emily he was off to run some errands and left to pick up the guinea. Upon arrival, the farmer handed Steven a single guinea keet, explaining that the keet was the only one to hatch out of the brood and he didn’t want to raise just one. The farmer told Steven that if he didn’t take the keet to feed to the falcons or eagles, then it was going to get culled.
Steven took the keet home and told Emily that he got her a new bird. Emily said, “I totted off and put my falconry glove on to get my new bird out of the travel box in the back of his van, and as I walked past Steven he said, ‘You won’t need that.’” Emily, confused, opened the travel box and was delighted to find the day-old keet.
Emily named the keet Papua, after Papua New Guinea. At the time she was having a bout of baby fever, so Steven figured that looking after Papua would alleviate the symptoms. Now, Emily likens Papua to her son, and says, “I take great offense with anyone calling him ugly.” She is a proud guinea mom.
Training Papua was simple compared to training the birds of prey that the couple keeps. Papua made it clear that he loved mealworms and was very food-motivated. Emily would reward him with a mealworm every time he came to his name. He was going through mealworms so quickly that they began raising their own to help keep stock.
Soon after Papua knew his name, Emily taught him to jump up on her arm and perch like her other birds. She also played games with him, like calling him from one room to another, flying on command, and hiding mealworms under cups for him to knock over and find. Emily even taught Papua to heel so she could walk him around the block and have him fly to the kids in the neighborhood.
People began noticing Papua and commenting that he was better trained than some dogs. Emily joked that she was going to quit falconry and just keep a flock of trained guineas, ducks, and chickens. She joined a few guinea fowl Facebook groups and posted a couple of videos of herself flying Papua at some medieval festivals, and that’s when she began to realize that Papua was special. Many guinea fowl owners told Emily that ordinarily, the birds are difficult to train. Papua started to develop a fan club.
Emily and Steven started taking Papua along to their bird shows, where Papua found even more recognition. “He was a huge hit,” Emily said.
The dog agility course came later when Papua was three years old. Emily and Steven were invited to a Working Animal show at the Weald and Downland Living Museum in West Sussex. The couple was supposed to do some bird shows and education for the public. They arrived a day early to set up and let the birds settle in. Emily noticed some people setting up a dog agility course across the field and jokingly told Steven that she was going to enter Papua into the competition.
Later that evening, with the setup complete, Emily went for a run with Papua and asked the woman at the course if she could train Papua on it. The worker laughed and said yes, but she was going home for the night. Emily, excited, grabbed Papua’s box of seed and mealworms and went about teaching Papua the course. Papua made Emily jump with him, but after he built some confidence, he successfully ran the entire course twice.
The next day Emily and Steven completed their falconry show and walked over to the agility races. Emily had Papua in his travel box and asked if she could enter the agility competition. The owner only asked for the breed, to which Emily replied, “Helmeted Guinea Fowl.” I don’t know if she said this with a straight face, but I certainly wish I was a fly on the wall for that conversation.
Emily and Papua ran the agility course, finished with a time of one minute and 20 seconds, and placed third. The two dogs that beat Papua were trained agility dogs. “I love his little hops over the jumps,” Emily said. “They do make me laugh.”
People in the audience were recording her run, and social media lit up over the guinea fowl who ran the dog agility course. Emily posted a video on her falconry page, Sussex Falconry, that has 112k views and counting. Papua, already a hit, went viral overnight.
Since that day, Emily has had countless people come to her for training advice or to tell her how happy the videos of Papua make them. “I love it. It fills me with joy and laughter that a keet that was going to be popped on the head or fed to an eagle has become the world’s most famous guinea fowl,” Emily said. She considers herself incredibly lucky to be the one who gets to experience Papua’s journey firsthand and loves how much he has touched people’s lives.
To keep up with The Amazing Papua, follow Emily and Steven’s Facebook page, Sussex Falconry, or their website at www.sussexfalconry.co.uk.
Originally published in the February/March 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.