Helmeted guineafowl

The helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris) is the best known of the guineafowl bird family, Numididae, and the only member of the genus Numida. It is native to Africa, mainly south of the Sahara, and has been widely introduced into the West Indies, Brazil, Australia and Europe (e.g. southern France).

Helmeted guineafowl
Numida meleagris -Kruger National Park, South Africa-8a
At Kruger N.P., South Africa
Calls of domesticated hens
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Numididae
Genus: Numida
Linnaeus, 1764
N. meleagris
Binomial name
Numida meleagris
Numida meleagris range map
Natural range. Introduced to Western Cape, Madagascar and elsewhere.

Phasianus meleagris Linnaeus, 1758

Pintade de Numidie MHNT
Eggs of Numida meleagris
Numida meleagris -Cape Town, South Africa -chick-8


Numida meleagris sabyi
The likely extinct subspecies N. m. sabyi of Morocco

In the early days of the European colonisation of North America, the native wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) was confused with this species. The word meleagris, Greek for guineafowl, is also shared in the scientific names of the two species, though for the guineafowl it is the species name, whereas for the turkey, it is the name of the genus and (in inflected form) the family.


There are nine recognized subspecies:[2]


Helmeted Guineafowls (Numida meleagris) (18199736631)
A covey of the nominate race in Uganda

The helmeted guineafowl is a large 53 to 58 centimetres (21 to 23 in) bird with a round body and small head. They weigh about 1.3 kilograms (2.9 lb). The body plumage is gray-black spangled with white. Like other guineafowl, this species has an unfeathered head. In this species it is decorated with a dull yellow or reddish bony knob, and bare skin with red, blue or black hues. The wings are short and rounded, and the tail is likewise 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.

Behaviour and ecology

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.[4] 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 can walk 10 km and more in a day, and are great runners. 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. They may live for up to 12 years in the wild.

Males often show aggression towards each other, and will partake in aggressive fighting which may leave other males bloodied and otherwise injured. They will attempt to make themselves look more fearsome by raising their wings upwards from their sides and bristling their feathers across the length of the body, and they may also rush towards their opponent with a gaping beak. The nest is a well-hidden, generally unlined scrape and a clutch is normally some 6 to 12 eggs which the female incubates for 26 to 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 very thick-shelled eggs that are reduced to fragments as the young birds (known as keets among bird breeders) hatch, rather than leaving two large sections and small chips where the keet has removed the end of the egg. It has been noted that domesticated guineafowl hens are not the best of mothers, and will often abandon their nests. The keets are cryptically coloured and rapid wing growth enables them to flutter onto low branches barely a week after hatching.


Helmeted guinea fowl are seasonally reproducing birds. Summer is the peak breeding season in which the testes could weigh up to 1.6 gm, while during winter no breeding activity takes place. The serum testosterone level is up to 5.37 ng/ ml during the breeding season.[5]


Gallina de Guinea (Numida meleagris), parque nacional Kruger, Sudáfrica, 2018-07-25, DD 48
Head of an adult in South Africa.

They breed in warm, fairly dry and open habitats with scattered shrubs and trees such as savanna or farmland.

Suburban flocks

Flocks of guineafowl have flourished in recent years in the northern and southern suburbs of Cape Town, where they have adapted remarkably well. Flocks wander slowly along the quieter suburban roads while foraging on the grassy 'pavements' and in gardens where the fence is low enough for some to enter without feeling separated from their flock. At night they often roost on the roofs of bungalows. While residents generally appreciate the local wildlife, they can be a nuisance, obstructing traffic and making a lot of noise in the early morning during the mating season. Their success may be attributed to their large but cautious flocks – they can fend off cats, but don't enter gardens with dogs, and are visible enough in the quiet roads which they frequent to avoid being run over. Although many young guineafowl fall down drains (and are left behind by the flock), such casualties are not enough to restrain their numbers. Adult birds are sometimes caught and eaten by homeless people.


Hens Niger parkw 2006
Race N. m. subsp. galeatus, here seen wild in Niger, is popularly kept as free-ranging poultry.

Helmeted guineafowl are often domesticated, and it is this species that is sold in Western supermarkets.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Numida meleagris". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ Martínez, I.; Kirwan, G.M. "Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris)". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Gibbon, Guy. Roberts VII Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa (iPhone and iPad version 2.4 ed.). John Voelker Book Fund. Southern African Birding CC 2012-2016.
  4. ^ Duffy, David Cameron; Downer, Randall; Brinkley, Christie (June 1992). "The effectiveness of Helmeted Guineafowl in the control of the deer tick, the vector of Lyme disease" (PDF). The Wilson Bulletin. 104 (2): 342–345. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-10-07.
  5. ^ Ali MZ, AS Qureshi, S Rehan, SZ Akbar and A Manzoor, 2015. Seasonal variations in histomorphology of testes and bursa, immune parameters and serum testosterone concentration in male guinea fowl (Numida meleagris). Pak Vet J, 35(1): 88–92

Further reading

  • Madge and McGowan, Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse ISBN 0-7136-3966-0

External links

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Atherstone Nature Reserve

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Avian range expansion

Avian range expansion describes how birds expand their habitat. Because of the activities of birdwatchers, these range expansions are well documented.

Throughout the last century a number of birds have expanded their range. Birds that were once thought to be only located on the West Coast of have moved eastward all the way to the East Coast, an example would be the Brewer's blackbird. Since the 1950s the Brewer's blackbird, a relative of the red-winged blackbird, has been moving eastward first from the West Coast of Oregon and California to the Great Lakes Region and then towards the East Coast, with the range expanding from Coast to Coast according to the Audubon's 2005 Christmas Bird Count. The Inca dove first arrived as a native of Mexico and has slowly expanded Northward into Kansas and Arkansas. Great tailed grackles have also moved in similar fashion northward.

Another region with documented range expansions is South Africa, where a number of birds have expanded westwards into the Western Cape province from other provinces due to habitat modification by humans and introductions. Examples of these include the Helmeted Guineafowl (introduced) and the Hadeda Ibis (natural expansion).

Range expansion may be explained by several different reasons.


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Numida was an ancient Roman town in the Roman province of Mauretania Caesariensis. It was located in modern northern Algeria.

The town was also the seat of an ancient Christian diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, of which very little is known. That Diocese survives today as a titular bishopric.

The location of the classical antiquity has been lost since the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb, and all that remains is the titular bishopric of the Roman Catholic Church that was once centered in that town.

Domestic guineafowl

Domestic guineafowl, sometimes called pintades, pearl hen, or gleanies, are poultry originating from Africa. They are the domesticated form of the helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris) and are related to other game birds such as the pheasants, turkeys and partridges. Although the timing of their domestication is unknown, there is evidence that domestic guineafowl were present in Greece by the 5th century BC.

They lay 25–30 eggs in a deep, tapering nest. Their eggs are small, dark and extremely thick-shelled. The hens have a habit of hiding their nests, and sharing it with other hens until large numbers of eggs have accumulated. The incubation period is 26–28 days, and the chicks are called "keets". As keets, they are highly susceptible to dampness (they are indigenous to the more arid regions of Africa) and can die from following the mother through dewy grass. After their first two to six weeks of growth, though, they can be some of the hardiest domestic land fowl.

Sexing the birds is not as simple as telling a rooster from a hen chicken. When they are adults, the helmet and wattles of the male are larger than those of the female (Guinea-hen), and only the female makes the two-note cry imitated as "Buck-wheat!" or "Pot-rack!" while the male only has a one-note cry. Aside from that, though, the two sexes are mostly identical in appearance.

As domestics, guineafowl are valuable pest controllers, eating many insects. They are especially beneficial in controlling the Lyme disease-carrying deer tick, as well as wasp nests. While they are rarely kept in large numbers, a few are sometimes kept with other fowl to be used as a security system against birds of prey. They will call with their loud, high shrieking voices if concerned about intruders. They are highly social birds and tend to languish when alone.

Within the domesticated species, many color variations have been bred forth aside from the "pearl" or natural color of the helmeted guinea. These include white, purple, slate, chocolate, lavender, coral blue, bronze, pewter, buff dundotte, blonde, and various pieds.

It can be cooked using any recipe that calls for chicken, but is considered to be more flavorful and, because of its higher cost, is generally served at special occasions. It is particularly common in French and Italian recipes.

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Guineafowl (; sometimes called "pet speckled hen", or "original fowl") are birds of the family Numididae in the order Galliformes. They are endemic to Africa and rank among the oldest of the gallinaceous birds. Phylogenetically, they branch off from the core Galliformes after the Cracidae and before the Odontophoridae. An Eocene fossil lineage, Telecrex, has been associated with guineafowl. Telecrex inhabited Mongolia, and may have given rise to the oldest of the true Phasianids such as Ithaginis and Crossoptilon, which evolved into high-altitude montane-adapted species with the rise of the Tibetan Plateau. While modern guineafowl species are endemic to Africa, the helmeted guineafowl has been introduced as a domesticated bird widely elsewhere.

Guineafowl (disambiguation)

Guineafowl are birds of the family Numididae, including:

Black guineafowl (Agelastes niger)

Crested guineafowl (Guttera pucherani)

Domesticated guineafowl

Helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)

Plumed guineafowl (Guttera plumifera)

Vulturine guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum)

White-breasted guineafowl (Agelastes meleagrides)Guineafowl may also refer to:

Arothron meleagris, the guineafowl pufferfish

Hamanumida daedalus, the guineafowl butterfly

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