On school days, one would expect to find Evan Yoder in the halls and classrooms of Hillsboro Elementary School, where he is in his ninth year as principal.
So he looked oddly out of place wandering around the surrounding neighborhood Feb. 22, but Yoder was on a mission: capture an escaped guinea fowl.
Yoder brought two guineas from his farm northwest of Peabody to show to second-graders who were reading about the birds in class. They were out on the playground when things went awry.
“I took them outside to show them, got the male out, put him back in, and in the course of putting him in and grabbing the other one, he got out, and then the female got away from me,” Yoder said.
Two guineas on the loose and the resulting chase was unexpected entertainment for the students.
“It definitely created a stir. The first grade kids were glued to the windows watching,” Yoder said.
“They can run fast. If you’ve seen Jurassic Park, and the velociraptors, they run like those things. I couldn’t believe how slow I’m getting,” Yoder said.
While they were successful in catching the male, the female eluded them and flew west, disappearing into the neighborhood.
Guineas have been a favorite bird of Yoder’s since childhood.
“I loved raising those things growing up. I liked the way they ran, I liked the noise they made, I liked the way they could fly,” Yoder said. “My mom encouraged it, my dad probably didn’t because they’d roost above the farm machinery.”
Yoder started with white guineas, and the number of guineas went up and down with the success of predators.
“You might as well put a sign on them for the great horned owls, ‘Here I am, I’m white, you can see me, please eat me.’ They’d take one every night, and pretty soon I wouldn’t have any,” Yoder said.
Yoder has had better luck with the two dozen speckled guineas that currently roam the farm.
“I haven’t had near the predation I used to. I don’t think I’ve lost a single one this winter,” Yoder said.
When he graduated from Peabody High School in 1976 and headed to Emporia State University, Yoder wasn’t interested in teaching. He wanted to come home to the family dairy operation.
“We had a big dairy. I didn’t plan to teach, I just went to school four years to get away from dairying for awhile,” Yoder said.
He graduated from ESU in 1980 and moved home. The record-breaking heat that summer turned out to be life-changing.
“All the crops failed, and we ended up having to buy alfalfa for the dairy herd that winter, and we didn’t recover from that,” Yoder explained.
Yoder wasn’t making any money, so in 1981 he took a job as a fifth-grade teacher in Hillsboro. Two years later, he switched to first grade, and taught eight more years before becoming principal of Hillsboro Middle School. He spent 12 years at HMS.
Yoder continued to live on family farm, moving to the main house with his wife Becky in 1986. While the farming and dairy operation dwindled over the years to become largely a hobby, there have always been guineas.
In addition to his boyhood affinity for the birds, Yoder likes their role in pest control.
“In the summertime with the grasshoppers, they roam all over our farm. They’re great in our garden. They make several rounds throughout the day. They eat crickets like crazy in the fall,” Yoder said.
And when one escapes, it can be elusive.
Late afternoon the day of the escape, Yoder and David Loewen had the bird cornered in Loewen’s back yard. Before they could catch it, it flew to Loewen’s roof. Yoder gave up for the day.
The next attempt came Thursday morning, while it was still dark. Yoder, armed with a net, found the guinea roosting in a pine tree.
“I got my net on it, but as I was pulling it out it fell out of the net, and then I was chasing it up the street,” Yoder said. “It flew up to the top of an electrical pole, and I couldn’t do anything then.”
Yoder brought a male guinea in a cage with him, knowing its call would keep the female nearby during the day for another attempt that night.
Around 7:30 p.m., Yoder and his wife, both armed with nets, approached the tree where the female was roosting. The bird’s location caused Yoder to change his plan.
“At dark they’re pretty docile,” Yoder said. “It was low enough I thought, ‘Hey, I’ll get a ladder and just grab it.’”
The plan didn’t work out the way he hoped.
“I reached along the branch, and I hooked my fingers over the leg, and I was about ready to grab it and it exploded,” Yoder said. “I thought it went up higher and I climbed way up in that tree and I didn’t see it, and Becky didn’t see where it had gone.”
That was enough for Yoder. He decided the best course of action was to leave the guinea alone, let it acclimate to the neighborhood, and try again Monday night. But when he went to the neighborhood, there was no bird to catch.
“I couldn’t find it – I looked all over. I’m surprised no one called the cops the way I was flashing my light in people’s yards,” Yoder said.
On the sixth day after the escape, Yoder finally bagged his prey, but not before one last failed attempt.
Yoder put a caged male back on the playground where the escape took place, hoping he could duplicate the successful capture of the male the week before. The bird was there Tuesday morning, but flew onto the school roof before Yoder could catch it.
Then Yoder spied the wooden enclosure for a transformer in another area of the playground. He put the male bird inside the enclosure with the door open, and soon the female joined it. Yoder and two custodians sprang into action.
“We got a big tarp, put it over the top, and then I got in there with my net,” Yoder said.
This time, after circling the transformer a few times, Yoder wrapped the guinea in the net, got it into a cage, and into the back of his pickup truck. The ordeal for both guinea and Yoder was over.
“I am so relieved,” Yoder said. “She’ll have a story to tell her grandchildren.”