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Helmeted Guineafowl @ Ndumo Game Reserve. Photo: Håvard Rosenlund

Helmeted Guineafowl

Helmeted Guineafowl - Numida meleagris - Distribution mapHelmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris) is the most widespread and common species of guineafowl in Africa. As other guineafowls the body is dark grey to black in color and covered in white spots. Head and most of the neck is featherless. It has a characteristic helm-shaped bony protrusion on its head. Facial and neck skin is blue with red patches starting at the base of the beak. The red patches and helm shape, along with wattles on either side of the beak, can differ between subspecies. It grows to a length of 53-58 cm (21-23 in) and an average weight of 1.3 kg (2.85 lb).

Diet and habitat

The helmeted guineafowls inhabit a wide variety of habitats although they prefer open habitats with scattered trees. They adapt very well to human presence and are in some places thriving in suburban landscapes. Their diet is broad and they will feed on a variety of plant matter, such as fruits, berries, seeds, and bulbs, as well as invertebrates, such as snails, spiders, and insects. They have also been known to prey on smaller reptiles and mammals.

Social behaviour and flying

When not in breeding season helmeted guineafowls live in large flocks sometimes numbering up to 200 individuals, with around 25 being more common. They are most actively foraging for food in the early morning and late afternoon. Like other species of fowl they are heavy bodied with short wings, making them poor flyers. They spend most of the time on the ground and will often prefer to run instead of fly away from danger. They will, and often do, fly up into trees for both protection and to feed on seeds, flowers and fruit. They glide to cover longer distances.

Nesting

Helmeted guineafowls are monogamous and will stick with one partner throughout their lives. However, males will often show heightened aggression towards one another and violent fights can break loose sometimes leaving individuals severely injured. Breeding often happens between October and April although the season can change between subspecies and geographical location. Nests are created in the cover of grass on the ground, and 6-12 eggs are laid and incubated for 24-28 days. Both male and female will partake in the rearing of young. Chicks hatch with a cryptic pattern for camouflage. Wings undergo rapid development and the chick can reach low branches within a week. Helmeted guineafowl have been known to reach an age of 12 years in the wild.

Status

The helmeted guineafowl is widespread and common throughout sub-Saharan Africa with nine recognized wild subspecies. It has also been introduced to several countries in the Caribbean, Brazil, Australia and southern France. It is also a very common domesticated fowl. There are no threats to the survival of the species and it is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List.

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