|Helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)|
de Sélys Longchamps, 1842
The guineafowl (//; sometimes called guineahen) are a family of birds in the Galliformes order, although some authorities (for example the American Ornithologists' Union) include the guineafowl as a subfamily, Numidinae, of the family Phasianidae. The guineafowl are native to Africa, but the helmeted guineafowl has wild-type birds have been introduced elsewhere.
Taxonomy and systematics
- Genus Agelastes
- Genus Numida
- Helmeted guineafowl, Numida meleagris
- Genus Guttera
- Genus Acryillium
- Vulturine guineafowl, Acryllium vulturinum
This family of insect- and seed-eating, ground-nesting birds resemble partridges, but with featherless heads, though both members of the genus Guttera have a distinctive black crest, and the vulturine guineafowl has a downy brown patch on the nape. Most species of guineafowl have a dark grey or blackish plumage with dense white spots, but both members of the genus Agelastes lack the spots (as do some domestic variants of the helmeted guineafowl). While several species are relatively well known, the plumed guineafowl and the two members of the genus Agelastes remain relatively poorly known. These large birds measure from 40–71 cm (16–28 inches) in length, and weigh 700–1600 grams or 1.5-3.5 pounds.
Behaviour and ecology
The species for which the information is known are normally monogamous, mating for life; however, occasional exceptions have been recorded for the helmeted guineafowl. All guineafowl are social, and typically live in small groups.
Distribution and habitat
Guineafowl species are found across sub-Saharan Africa, some almost in the entire range, others more localised, such as the plumed guineafowl in west-central Africa and the vulturine guineafowl in north-east Africa . They live in semi-open habitats such as savanna or semideserts, while some, such as the black guineafowl, mainly inhabit forests.
The helmeted guineafowl has been domesticated and introduced outside its natural range, for example in southern France (where they are known as pintade), the West Indies, the United States and India, where it is raised as food.
Head of a vulturine guineafowl
Guineafowl have a long history of domestication, mainly involving the helmeted guineafowl; in the UK they were usually known as "gleanies". The young (called "keets") are very small at birth. The keets are kept in a brooder box inside the house until about six weeks of age, before being moved into a proper coop or enclosure. They eat lice, worms, ants, spiders, weedseeds, and ticks while on range, or they can also eat chicken layer crumbles (one kind of commercial bird feed) while housed in a coop. The cooked flesh of guineafowl resembles chicken in texture, with a flavour somewhere between chicken and turkey. Its flesh has also been compared to that of pheasant, only juicier. The guinea is also considered dark meat, thus making its carcass the foundation to rich and flavorful stocks. Guineafowl are sometimes used to control ticks.
- Madge and McGowan, Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse. ISBN 0-7136-3966-0
- Martínez, I. (1994). "Family Numididae (Guineafowl)", p. 554–570 in; del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 2. New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-15-6