Nevermore: The Dangers Awaiting Guinea Pigs Outside

papua pondGuinea Pig Today

My guinea pig, Papua, enjoying lunch in the fresh air. We would often sit together in the backyard.

I knew the warning well because I often spoke it to others. Do not leave your guinea pigs unattended when outside of their usual habitat. However, it was bound to happen. I was usually good about following my own advice but I was about to let that one slack and learn a hard lesson.

Part of my routine was working in my home office and having the pigs in the playpen. Plenty of times I had turned to answer a phone call and had my back turned for 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 15 minutes. The first few times were accidental, due to work stress and distraction. After that, I neglected my watchman duties due to a false state of comfort. Everything had been fine. I had checked and double checked their safety many times. Their toys were safe. They had plenty of food and water and each other’s company. All was well.

The day in question, however, I had them in the backyard. I should point out that I’m an avid gardener and we have a Japanese Garden. A small closed space with a high wooden fence, stone pond and waterfall, plants landscaped with love, and warm patio stones cut into organic shapes and snuggly fit together. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and a lifelong dream.

The french doors were both open and the warm air freshened the house. The deck above covered half the backyard making it feel like an extension of our home. The yard was so clean, I freely moved in and out of the house in socks without much dirt. This particular day was cage cleaning day.

Because it was warm outside, I put the pigs on the patio in their pen. They were on the flat stones that manicured their nails naturally. I had put a large tray of fresh cut grass in the pen along with the usual toys, tunnels, and snacks. At the time, I had a webcam set up and would broadcast my guinea pigs to my friends online. I put the webcam in place, and even though the sun wasn’t out, I put a shady cover over the pen so my sweet pets would feel safe. The cover fit snug and was difficult for me to get on and off. Certainly this pen was secure.

I went in and out between the backyard and our finished basement carrying cage pieces. I washed them at the hose and shook blankets out over the fence. I laid everything out to dry. The pigs were chasing each other through tunnels and playing nicely. The birds were singing. It was a beautiful day. The webcam was connected to the television in the house so I could see them on the big screen when I went inside to clean the fleece. All seemed well.

papua playpenGuinea Pig Today

Papua at three months old in his first playpen by the back door. During the warmer months, it was comfortable both inside and outside of the house. I knew then he needed so much more if he were to be safe.

I took a moment to have a brief conversation with my husband. “Where are the pigs?” he asked. “They’re in the playpen in the backyard. The cover is on and they’re snoozing. It’s a nice day.” I responded in confidence. “You better go check on them,” he said. His warning concerned me. Usually I was the one that was too uptight about things. Was I slacking? I glanced up at the webcam and the pigs were both snuggled in a tunnel looking quite… hmm, uncomfortable?

I walked into the backyard and there were a pair of ravens, twice the size of my largest guinea pig. They were on opposite sides on the pen lifting the cover. I lunged towards them and the big birds did not move. They had no fear. I was terrified they would get to my pigs before I could. The webcam didn’t show these meddlers and it seemed my sweethearts were just seconds from a horrible fate. I waved my arms and jumped around. The best the birds did was backup a little and look at me perplexed. I fumbled with the cover that the birds had so easily pulled back just moments before. The birds inched forward. I grabbed the entire tunnel containing my guinea pigs and ran for the back door. The ravens were strutting around behind me, moving towards the back door. I couldn’t close the doors fast enough. Once safe inside, the birds continued to cry out to me. (Calling them birds is an understatement. These were velociraptors!) Eventually one of them seemed to turn on the other and start bullying as if to say, “It’s your fault we missed out!” Only then did they leave. The pigs were ok but visibly shaken. I was running close to a heart attack.

That. Was. Too. Close.

After that encounter I went online and read about ravens. Turns out they are incredibly smart and the largest birds in the crow family. Studies on ravens have proven they have deductive reasoning and can figure out situations many other animals can not. This is why they could get the cover off the pen. One bird might have had issues. No, this enemy came with friends and they work together. A group of ravens are called a unkindness or a conspiracy. I just found out why.

Another thing I learned about ravens, they have been known to kill small farm animals and small dogs. They pick up the animals and fly straight up, dropping them from higher and higher heights until the animals are so broken they can’t move or die. Then the ravens tear them apart with very strong beaks.

I thought I had to beware of foxes, raccoons, and the neighborhood children that like to hang from our trees. I had no idea I had deadly birds in my neighborhood. I thought the webcam was a fine substitute for a real pair of eyes. My guinea pigs almost perished and it would have been broadcast online for all to see. Can you imagine? I will never walk away from them again. Technology can not replace being there.

We don’t live far from the home of famous poet, Edgar Allan Poe, and I now carry his words with me to remind me of the ravens that day. “Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’”


If you have a great idea for an article about guinea pigs, please let us know. Guinea Pig Today is a network of guinea pig lovers and we’re always looking for the next great story. View our submissions page for more information on how to submit your idea.

Angela, Editor-in-Chief, GPT

Angela founded Guinea Pig Today and guest writes for CavyMadness. She volunteers with Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue and supports the ROUS Foundation. Her guinea pig, Papua, is the star of WHEK-TV/DT.

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Comments
7 Responses to “Nevermore: The Dangers Awaiting Guinea Pigs Outside”
  1. Alena Loisele says:

    Birds in the corvid family are scary smart. I’m glad you were able put on your super mommy cape and rescue the boys in time! The closest time we had to losing a G.P. was when we had Eno out in my parent’s back field for a romp. We had let him loose many, many times, and always kept an eye on him even though he never would bolt. The grass was fairly short, and there was no where for him to get lost. We were sitting three feet away, looking briefly the other direction. When we turned….he was GONE! The only place he could have gotten to was under an old wagon a few feet away, but we could not find him. The sick feeling we both had in our guts was horrible. We failed our little guy. After about ten minutes of searching, I rested my hand on a tuft of grass, and it WHEEKED! We pulled our Eno safe out of the clump, cried for joy, and swore we would NEVER take him for granted ever again.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” may not have been far-fetched. I’ve heard ravens and black birds spoken of as quite smart. Boy, how nasty their hunting techniques are.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Sounds like you needed a baseball bat or BB gun.

  4. I am so glad that everything ended well for you and your pigs.

    I’ve also had a similar experience years ago – my pigs at the time were on the lawn when I went indoors to grab something. Although it hadn’t been more than a minute or two, I looked out the window did not see them where they had been sitting and eating only a few moments ago.

    I rushed outside and was horrified to discover that what I had not been able to see was the large hawk standing not too far from where my pigs had been. Since I’m not an avian enthusiast I wasn’t sure what it was but I could clearly see from its large stature, hooked beak and five foot plus wingspan that it was a bird of prey, most likely from the nature preserve several miles away. It flapped off reluctantly after I ran at it, and I was relieved to find my pigs after a quick search – one had taken cover under a bush and the other had hidden in a nearby flowerbed.

    It was a hard learned lesson, I’m just thankful that my pigs were unharmed. Now my pigs never go outside without an escort!

  5. Sally says:

    We’ve seen hawks in our back yard and were told there is the occasional turkey vulture (although we haven’t seen any in three years). So even when we’re out, sitting with our pigs, they are in an enclosed cage. It has several latches to open and close it. I also made sure the top can take several pounds (for cats and such). Although, after reading this article, I may put weights on it and test how much it can actually take. Likewise, it can be staked to the ground, but we usually don’t bother.

    It’s so easy to fall into a false sense of security. Good article to remind us of the dangers.

  6. Victoria says:

    I play shepherd when they are outside. I stay on my feet, keep my eyes on them, and keep watch for predator birds. and herd them back when they get too far.

    Even when they are in an enclosed cage set on the grass, they can be in danger. I used to leave them to graze in a large upended locked cage on the grass. I had a brick on top over the door. Very safe. I’d check every 15 minutes or less. One day I came outside to see a cat up against the bars, trying to figure out how to reach them. He probably couldn’t have gotten them, but it frightened them quite a lot. What was kind of funny about the episode is that my large neutered male was standing between the cat and the little female, and trying to make himself look big. Very brave for a prey animal whose instincts are telling him to hide!

  7. Alisa says:

    Thank you for this reminder. I made the stupid mistake of going inside while my piggies were outside, and two stray dogs broke into the backyard and smashed their enclosure. One piggy escaped, but one did not. I chased the dogs and they dropped our beloved Couscous in the street. He died in my arms. His mate, Brie, became depressed and was never the same. I will never forgive myself, and we miss Couscous all the time. We’ve parented many piggies over the years and he was by far our favorite.

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