The helmeted guineafowl, commonly known as the tarentaal in South Africa, is a bird to marvel at. This game bird is one of Africa’s fascinating spotted animals. They are unmistakable with their black and white dotted bodies, colorful faces, and a dinosaur horn-like casque on their heads.
These scrubland-loving savanna birds are members of the guinea fowl family, Numida meleagris. They spend their day scratching around and enjoy taking the odd dust bath, before a midday snooze. Generally, they hang out in large groups making raucous chatter sounds and loud calls.
Here are some fun facts about the helmeted guineafowl, birds with horns.
1. This Chicken Coquena Bird Species is Monomorphic
The helmeted guineafowl male and female both look and act alike. This means they are monomorphic and monochromatic. They can be rather comical and enjoy looking at their reflections.
The helmeted guineafowl’s body size is similar to that of chickens. They reach approximately 58 to 64 cm in length and can weigh up to 1.8 kg.
Their bodies feature an almost ‘bead-like‘ design. This consists of dark grey feathers and tiny white dots.
These birds also have a red-colored ‘wattle‘ on either side of their short beaks. Their bald faces and necks consist of blue-colored skin. They have an orange or brown helmet cap on their featherless heads.
2. They Choose to Walk – Even Though They Can Fly
Guineafowls are terrestrial birds and spend most of their time scavenging the grounds. They predominantly choose to keep their feet planted on the earth and can walk up to 10 km a day.
Their wings work fine but they only fly when in danger or to get up to their communal roosts in the trees at dusk. Their flights are usually short and last around 120 m before landing.
3. They’re Rather Chatty
The helmeted guineafowl has a personality of its own. When disturbed, they have a distinct noisy and loud call. They often become lunatics, charging around crying out to one another.
Their alarm call often sounds like long and short stutters. It sounds similar to “chuk-chuk- chuk-chukaaa” or “kek-kek-kek-kraaaaaaaah“. When the flock is together, individuals communicate using a low-pitched “Kerr” or “chuk” sound.
The African guinea fowl makes different sounds according to the occasion. It differs during the breeding season compared to the sound they make when in danger.
4. They Make for Great “Watchdogs”
The ancient Romans first domesticated guineafowl. They were mainly used for their meat, eggs, and tick control. But they were also used as ‘watchdogs’ because of their alarming cry when disturbed.
Today, humans keep these birds domestically and with other fowls to ward off predators.
Helmeted guineafowls establish their homes around farms, residential areas, and the bushveld. Their overall population is stable and in no danger.
5. They’re Mainly Found South of the Sahara
Helmeted guineafowls are endemic to Africa. While these fowls roam around any type of habitat, they prefer grasslands, agricultural land, thorn, and bushveld. They mostly avoid arid areas and rainforests.
These communal birds live in large flocks. They walk through the bushveld in a single file and imitate the dominant leader.
The birds are not migratory. However, they do move around much more during the breeding season. This is when they are most active.
6. They Are Omnivorous Game Birds
The helmeted guinea fowl has an omnivorous diet and forages for food. They are opportunistic eaters and enjoy variety in their diets.
Their dinner menus mostly consist of seeds, reptiles, berries, spiders, snails, roots, grains, and insects. Just like chickens, they use their short beaks and feet to scratch up soils and rubble in search of food.
These birds are well-known for keeping control of tick and grasshopper populations. They often follow after troops of monkeys for fallen fruits. Their feeding times are mostly in the early mornings and late afternoons.
7. They Are Quite the Athletes
Guineafowl are social birds and flock together in large communities. Males dominate and settle their differences by chasing after one another. In the end, the male with the best endurance is the alpha dominant.
During combat, the males make themselves appear larger by puffing up their feathers and lifting their wings.
8. Guinea Fowls Are Monogamous
Guineafowl are monogamous and couples mate for life. During the breeding season, partners will perform a ‘duet’ together, singing simultaneously.
The males fight aggressively to impress guinea fowl females during this time. They fight mostly terrestrially, often choosing to run rather than to fly.
9. They Hide Their Eggs Well
Guineafowl are ‘seasonal’ layers. The nests are shallow and made by nestling in the ground, well-concealed by thick grass, sticks, and feathers. Their eggs have a hard shell and are a bit smaller than that of your average chicken egg.
In season, the African guinea hen may lay an egg a day until they have a clutch of around 7 to 30 eggs. The incubation period is around 26 to 28 days.
10. Dads Are Important in Raising Young
Baby guineafowls are called keets. Before incubation, males will guard the eggs and leave as soon as the incubation period starts. Once the eggs have hatched, he returns. The male plays a significant role in teaching the keets what to eat.
Guineafowl reach sexual maturity around two years of age. They have a life expectancy of up to 15 years.
11. Some Females Dump Their Eggs
In some cases, females will lay their eggs in another guineafowl’s nest. They do this so that the owner of the nest will incubate her eggs. This is a rather lazy act on her behalf, known as egg-dumping.
12. They Have Many Relatives
Guineafowl, of the Numididae family, comprises several wild guinea fowl species. These include the helmeted guineafowl and the crested guineafowl, both found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.
Other relatives, such as the plumed, crested, vulturine, and white-breasted guineafowl, inhabit parts of Central, Sub-Saharan, Northeast and Western Africa.
13. They Have a Large Number of Predators
Wild flocks of helmeted guineafowl have many predators. Domestic dogs and cats catch and kill a fair number of their population. Some farmers kill them because they damage their crops, and birds of prey, including large African eagles and owls, hunt them.
14. These Fowls Are Not the Best Pets
Wild guineafowls do not make the greatest of pets. Unlike other domestic breeds of fowl and their pheasant relatives, these birds are not the cuddliest.
If you keep them captive in a residential area, their loud sounds when agitated may not be ideal for a nearby neighbor.
African Guineas Have Made Their Mark
These gorgeous African guinea birds have certainly made their mark. With their loud crackling alarm cry and their adorable body art, what is not to love about these impressive ‘watchdogs’?
South Africa’s bushveld would not be the same without the unmelodious guinea fowl calls of these terrestrial birds. Why not see them for yourself? Plan your safari trip to spot these wondrous animals in their natural environment.