The Guineafowl

My expertise is that of wild birds. I know little about the care and keeping of caged birds and even less about poultry. Nonetheless, I regularly receive questions about breeding cockatiels, training conures, or the reproduction of barnyard ducks. The other day someone asked me if a guineafowl could mate with a chicken. Since these birds are in different families, that’s not at all likely, but what do I know?

Guineafowl are birds of the family Numididae of the order Galliformes. Six species are endemic to Africa and rank among the oldest of the gallinaceous birds. The common name comes the word Guinea which was used to refer to the lands owned by the Guineus, a collective term once used for African people from regions south of the Senegal River.

Known for thousands of years, it has been called the “Numidian Hen”, “Carthage Hen” or “Guinea Hen” by the Romans, “Turkish Hen” by the Byzantines, and “Indian Hen” in the 15th century. The Portuguese called it pintados (“painted” or “in make-up” due to the color of its crest and wattles). In the 15th century, a Venetian, Ca’ da Mosto, hired by the Portuguese, brought guinea fowl back from Africa. They soon found their way from upper-class aviaries to common farms. Over the centuries, various species were used to populate the aviaries of Kings and nobles in Europe.

While most guineafowl are only found in Africa, the Helmeted Guineafowl is widely domesticated. The only member of the genus Numida, the Helmeted Guineafowl, is native to south of the Sahara but has been introduced into the West Indies, North America, Australia and Europe.

Until the mid-20th century, guinea fowl remained a rare delicacy, because it is difficult to farm, stubbornly maintaining its wildness despite efforts at domestication. When caged, the guinea hen will refuse to lay eggs but in the 60s, a way around this wild behavior was found by separating laying and nesting guinea hens. France is today the leading producer of guinea fowl.

Helmeted Guineafowl, Numida meleagris (the wandering turkey), sexes look alike. This means they are monomorphic and monochromatic. They can be rather comical and enjoy looking at their reflections. Their body size is similar to that of chickens, weighing up to four pounds. Their bodies feature a bead-like design of dark grey feathers and tiny white dots. They also have a red-colored wattle on either side of their short beaks, bald faces and necks colored blue, and an orange or brown helmet cap on their featherless heads.

Guineafowl are terrestrial and spend most of their time scavenging on the ground, walking up to six miles a day. They only fly when in danger or to get up to their communal roosts in the trees at dusk.

When disturbed, they have a distinct noisy and loud call. They often charge around crying out to one another. Their alarm call often sounds like long and short stutters, sounds similar to “chuk-chuk- chuk-chukaaa” or “kek-kek-kek-kraaaaaaaah“.. Romans used Helmeted Guineafowl mainly for their meat, eggs, and tick control. But they were also used as watchdogs because of their alarming cry when disturbed.

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