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Old Victoria continues support, admiration for guineas

By Elena Watts
July 22, 2014 at 2:22 a.m.
Updated July 23, 2014 at 2:23 a.m.

It started with an ill-conceived plan to drop guineas from a helicopter, and 38 years later, offspring from that flock still walk the streets and backyards in an Old Victoria neighborhood. Poring over flower beds and lawns, the guineas sift through vegetation looking for a meal of insects and seeds.

One white-speckled, gray guinea roused an affection for the birds that has lasted almost 40 years among Old Victoria residents.

The guinea made a dramatic entrance in Port O'Connor before she was named Marguerite and roamed the yards of the historic Victoria neighborhood.

Among other guinea fowl, she soared in circles from an airplane to the ground during the Great Guinea Glide in the mid-1970s. A crowd of more than 50 bettors backed the birds they believed would make the slowest glides down.

"It was total ridiculousness," said Fred Armstrong, who attended the event before moving to Houston. "You could not tell which bird would last the longest. It was blind luck."

As luck would have it, Madeline Tyng Dodson and her late husband, Tom Tyng, noticed a wet and shivering bird in the grass as they enjoyed the beautiful sunset at the end of the long day.

Marguerite made a mess of Tom Tyng's Wagoneer, where she stayed overnight, and she traveled home with him the next day.

A local veterinarian saved Marguerite when she became ill after a long disappearance, and a brood was soon born when residents delivered other guineas to the neighborhood.

Marguerite spawned a lot of guinea lovers - but not entirely without controversy.

In 2007, a resident filed a complaint because she said the guineas were aggressive.

Residents wore silk-screened T-shirts with "Save the Guineas" and stuck signs in their yards with the same message.

"A lot of people came out of the woodwork to support them," said John Kisalus, owner of the North Street home where the Tyngs once lived. "We say the guinea is the national bird of Old Victoria - the mascot for our neighborhood."

Animal control trapped 11 birds and moved them to the country, which left about eight, Kisalus said.

"Chief Joe Lopez ultimately said to leave them alone because of the public outcry," said Heather Kern, assistant supervisor for Victoria County Animal Control. "We haven't had any complaints in at least five years."

John and Ginny Kisalus perpetuated the tradition when they stood up for the guineas, said Kathleen Carey, who owns a home that borders North Street.

The brood has dwindled to five or six, but as many as 18 roamed the area at one time, Kisalus said. Different people add guineas when the numbers get low.

The birds peck the glass panes in the Kisalus' front door every morning for food. They visit the house two to three times each day, he said.

The guineas make the rounds during the cooler morning and evening hours, said Jerry Hudgens, a pharmacist who lives on Victoria Street. Their loud cackling during certain times of the day helps him keep track of time.

Family members are amazed to see the birds in the front yard when they visit, Hudgens said.

Melissa Lyman, who also lives on Victoria Street, loves to listen to the guineas.

"It's like the sound of a train," Lyman said. "You adjust, and it becomes a peaceful noise."

Lyman also loves that the birds eat bugs in her yard and keep snakes at bay. She sends photographs of the guineas and their babies, keets, to her daughters who now live elsewhere.

All of the children in the family look forward to Thanksgiving at the Lyman house because they get to see the guineas.

"I wouldn't want anything to happen to the guineas," Lyman said. "It would be crushing."



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