The Helmeted Guineafowl
) is the best known of the guineafowl bird
, and the only member of the
. It breeds in Africa,
mainly south of the Sahara, and has been
widely introduced into the West Indies and southern France.
It breeds in warm, fairly dry and open habitats with scattered
or farmland. The nest is a
well-hidden, generally unlined scrape and a clutch is normally 6-12
eggs which the female incubates for 26-28 days. Nests containing
larger numbers of eggs are generally believed to be the result of
more than one hen using the nest; eggs are large and an incubating
bird could not realistically cover significantly more than a normal
clutch.Domestic birds at least, are notable for producing extremely
thick-shelled eggs that are reduced to fragments as the chicks
hatch, rather than leaving two large sections and small chips from
where any chick has removed the end of the egg.The chicks are
cryptically coloured and rapid wing growth enables them to flutter
onto low branches barely a week after hatching. These guineafowl
live as long as 12 years in the wild.
Detail of the guineafowl's head.
The Helmeted Guineafowl is a large (53-58 cm) bird with a
round body and small head. They weigh about 1.3 kg. The body
is gray-black spangled with white.
Like other guineafowl, this species has an unfeathered head, in
this case decorated with a dull yellow or reddish bony knob, and
red and blue patches of skin. The wings are short and rounded, and
the tail is also short.Various sub-species are proposed,
differences in appearance being mostly a large variation in shape,
size and colour of the casque and facial wattles.
This is a gregarious species, forming flocks outside the breeding
season typically of about 25 birds that also roost communally.
Guineafowl are particularly well-suited to consuming massive
quantities of ticks
, which might otherwise
spread lyme disease
. These birds are
terrestrial, and prone to run rather than fly when alarmed. Like
most gallinaceous birds, they have a short-lived explosive flight
and rely on gliding to cover extended distances. Helmeted
Guineafowl are great runners, and can walk 10 km and more in a day.
They make loud harsh calls when disturbed. Their diet consists of a
variety of animal and plant food; seeds, fruits, greens, snails,
spiders, worms and insects, frogs, lizards, small snakes and small
mammals. Guineafowl are equipped with strong claws and scratch in
loose soil for food much like domestic chickens, although they
seldom uproot growing plants in so doing. As with all of the
numididae, they have no spurs.
In the early days of the European
colonisation of North America
native Wild Turkey
) was confused with this species. This led to the
English name of the American bird,
since Turkey and Guinea were equally
far-off and exotic places.
The word meleagris
for guineafowl, is also shared
in the scientific names of the two species, although for the
guineafowl it is the species name, whereas for the turkey, it is
the name of the genus and (in an altered state) the family.
Helmeted Guineafowl is often domesticated, and it is this species
that is sold in Western supermarkets.
- Madge and McGowan, Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse