Guinea fowl are related to the family known as Galliformes, which includes pheasants. Although similar to game birds such as pheasant and partridge, guinea fowl are commonly known as a type of poultry.
The most common type of bird known is the domestic chicken. In addition to being kept as pets, guinea fowls, like chickens and other poultry, are raised for their meat and eggs.
Perhaps due to their relationship with the pheasant, guinea fowl are known as game birds. In fact, they have often been mentioned and used as an alternative to pheasant for either meat or game shooting.
The dark and lean meat is certainly reminiscent of the pheasant. They also have flight patterns very similar to those of game birds. For example, they take off with an explosive burst. Generally fleeing for short distances and prefers to walk or run.
Of the eight known species of guinea fowl, the most common in captivity are the common or helmeted guinea fowl, the crested guinea fowl, and the vulture guinea fowl.
The common helmeted, as mentioned, are the birds that most people think of when asked about guinea fowl. They are the bird of choice because they are hardy and can live up to 20 years or more. Helmeted guinea fowl are also very easy to manage and also produce eggs, rich and high in protein, in addition to an excellent meat yield.
Types Of Guinea Fowl
There are 4 genera or genus of guinea fowl include:
The Numids are the most common and most widespread throughout the world. These are the guinea fowls you are probably most familiar with as follows:
1) The Genus Numida includes:
- Helmeted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris)-
2) The Genus Guttera includes:
- Kenyan crested guinea fowl (Guttera pucherani)
- The crested guinea fowl (Guttera edouardi)
- The plumed guinea fowl (Guttera plumifera)
3) The Genus Agelastes includes:
- White-breasted guinea fowl (Agelastes meleagrides)
- Black guinea fowl (Agelastes niger)
4) The Genus Acryillium:
- Vulturine Guinea Fowl (Acryllium vulturinum)
The above seven species have been further subdivided into subspecies through cross-breeding. It can get confusing when you realize that the helmeted guinea fowl, Numida meleagris, has more than 20 subspecies.
Vulturine Guinea Fowl
The vulture guinea fowl are commonly found in hot desert areas, scrublands, wooded areas, and grasslands. Often seen in flocks of 20 to 70 or more birds. They are arguably the most spectacular of the guinea fowls and unsurprisingly they are labeled royal.
They are in their wild habitat are known throughout Kenya, eastern Ethiopia, Somalia, as well as parts of Tanzania and Uganda.
The vulture guinea fowl are the largest of the guinea fowl with a length measuring approximately 23.5 to 27.5 inches (60 to 70 cm). Their wingspan is up to 10.5 feet (3.2 meters).
They have a coloration that is a striking mix of cobalt blue, black, white, and gray. They also have distinctive white spots that cover most of their backside. White stripes adorn the front of the bird from its neck to its chest and the top of its wings.
The vulturine’s head probably looks more like a vulture, from which the name undoubtedly derives. There is a single dark brown coloration that appears as a tuft on the back of the bird’s head. As with all other guinea fowls, the head and neck are largely bald.
A common characteristic of guinea fowl species is that the sexes are largely indistinguishable. However, the male vulturine guinea fowl is slightly larger and must have at least one spur.
Like other guinea fowls, they will prefer to move by walking or running, rather than flying.
They are not as hardy as helmeted guinea fowls but are said to be easier to keep than certain exotic breeds of pheasant. They are also said to be quieter, less noisy than helmeted guinea fowl.
The Vulturine eat insects, vegetation, Fruit, corn, and other grains. Minced meat is also a welcome dietary supplement for these birds. They most likely get a lot of moisture from these foods. However, unlike the common helmeted guinea fowl, the vulturine guinea fowl can abstain from drinking water for a long time. In this sense, they are extremely efficient in hot desert environments.
The Vulturine guinea fowl can be adversely affected by extreme cold and wet weather. In such conditions, unless the building is well insulated, the birds should be kept in a heated enclosure.
However, it is suggested that a temperature above the first negative points, 28.4 ° F to 23 ° F (-2 to -5 ° C), should be bearable for them. Anything below that would certainly need additional heating.
The temperature inside the house must be controlled in any case. In any case, proper insulation and double-glazed windows would be very beneficial.
In cold temperatures, the floor also needs insulation through a thick layer of shavings or straw. It can be very uncomfortable for birds to walk on any compacted or concrete floor.
They are also very good additions to a mixed coop, they are generally docile, unlike their more aggressive relations the helmeted guinea fowl. Since the birds are rarer and therefore more expensive than the more common guinea fowl, many breeders take no chances with hatching.
The vulture guinea fowl lay about 12 to 15 light brown/dark cream eggs that are about 2 inches long. They have an incubation period of approximately 24 days. The eggs are usually hatched artificially or using a broody hen.
The black guinea fowl
The black guinea fowl (agelastes niger), one of two birds in the genus agelastes, is again so named because of its largely black coat.
The black guinea fowl is mainly found in rainforest areas of Gabon, Cameroon, Congo, and Zaire. Therefore, they are found roaming the forest floor in small flocks of up to 25.
The black guinea fowl is a relatively small bird with a length of up to 45 cm (approximately 17 3/4 inches) and a wingspan of 22 cm (approximately 8 3/4 inches).
The bird certainly looks like a guinea fowl, but it is perhaps the least notable of the family. As mentioned, it is largely black and the bare head and neck are bright pinkish-red.
Again, both sexes are the same, with the exception that the male will have spurs, but to complicate matters, the female may also exhibit occasional spurs.
These birds are also silent with a gently repetitive call.
Although these birds have been kept in captivity, they require a specialized environment that resembles their natural habitat.
As you might expect, their diet is made up of forest insects, vegetation, and frogs.
The eggs are usually light brown in color, about 4 cm (11/2 inches) long.
White-breasted Guinea fowl
The white-breasted guinea fowl (agelastes meleagrides), the other bird included in the genus agelastes, is native to parts of Ghana, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast.
Although not on the verge of extinction, they are considered to be vulnerable species under threat. Like the Black Guinea Fowl, they are to be found in tropical forests. They prefer well-covered areas and are therefore not commonly spotted. When they have been encountered, they have usually been seen in pairs or small groups.
The white-breasted guinea fowl are up to 50 cm (19 3/4 inch approx) in length with a wingspan up to 23 cm (9 inches approx).
They are similar in appearance to the Black Guinea Fowl. They have a largely mono-colored dark brown/black covering. Again the head and neck are bare with the skin pink/red. As the name suggests, the breast covering is white.
They have a low call, but they can make quite a loud melodious call on occasion. The birds have been successfully kept in captivity and similarly to the Black Guinea Fowl., they require a similar tropical environment.
Their natural diets consist of forest seeds, leaves, insects, etc.
The eggs are a pale rust-brown of approximately 4.5 cm (1 3/4 inch) in length. Once again the sexes are alike with the male distinguishable by its spurs.
Crested/Plumed Guinea Fowl
The guttera genus is commonly known as crested guinea fowl or plumed guinea fowl, depending on the species and subspecies.
So if you look at the family of guttera, you will see that the guttera plumifera is commonly known as the plumed guinea fowl.
By the way, if you check the family tree again, you will notice that there is 1 species and 1 subspecies. Guttera pucherani, of which there is a species known as the Kenyan crested guinea fowl, and no subspecies.
However, the guttera edouardi and its many subspecies are also generally known as crested guinea fowl.
Whatever the specific nomenclature, the Plumed or Crested guinea fowls share a basic characteristic, that of a tuft of hair on the crown of the head.
Without going into the details of each species or subspecies, the guttera genus, be it plumifera pucherani, or edouardi, share similar characteristics as follows:
- The guttera genus can be found in the tropical forested regions of eastern, western, central and southern Africa. They prefer the hidden area and are therefore rarely seen outdoors.
- The crest that is typical of this genus, varies in size and shape, depending on the subspecies. The color of the head and neck, which like other guinea fowl is mostly bare skin, also varies. Its posture is more upright than the common guinea fowl. They have three calls, one of which resembles the relentless alarm call, typical of the common guinea fowl.
Crested/Plumed Guinea Fowl feed on insects, seeds, forest vegetation and are also known to feed on snails and spiders, among others.
Once again they lay eggs on the ground in a secluded area. Eggs can be up to about 2 inches (5 cm) long and can be any color from whitish to light brown. They have an incubation period of between 23 and 25 days.
Although this breed has been successfully kept and bred in captivity, they still require an environment similar to that of their native rainforests.
Helmeted Guinea Fowl
Numida meleagris, with more than twenty subspecies, is the most prolific and commonly known of the guinea fowl species.
Among the subspecies, it is commonly known as “common or helmeted” guinea fowl. However, depending on the subspecies, other names include, gray breasted, Ugandan bristol nosed, penciled guinea fowl, crowned guinea fowl, among others. But, the helmet guinea fowl is the most popular of the species.
Usually, helmeted guinea fowl is populated in the confines of all of Africa, although the subspecies tend to be located specifically and not so widely.
Therefore, they can be found in mountainous regions of Morocco, desert regions of the Sahara, and Arabia. They can also be found around humid and saline coastal areas.
They mostly prefer to perch in tall trees, so those areas will be commonly populated. Unlike vulturine, they cannot go long without water and therefore will be very close to a waterhole or river.
They are naturally voracious foragers and will walk for miles each day. This genus is different from the other more private genus of guinea fowl in its precocious and gregarious tendencies.
Numida meleagris, is most recognizable by its distinctive horn-like protrusion on the top of its head, hence the name helmeted.
Between subspecies, you will notice that the length, shape, and curvature vary. So if you come across a common/helmeted variety that has an unusually large, small, or curved bony crown, then this may be one of many subspecies.
The size and shape of the wattles hanging from the base of the beak can also vary. However, it is generally assumed that the size of the wattles of specific species/subspecies will only differ significantly between the male and the female.
The male helmeted guinea fowl usually has larger and thicker wattles than the female. They will also vary in size and weight, again depending on the species or subspecies.
The coloration also varies considerably between species and subspecies. They are usually light or dark gray with white speckles but can be completely white, pearly white, white-breasted, splashes of brown, etc. The bald head and neck area can be white, bluish-white, cobalt blue, etc. Generally, the wattles and the top of the head are red/orange.
Helmeted guinea fowl are not as picky as some of their relatives and will eat most foods if they have no other choice. However, like all guinea fowls, they will prefer insects, grains, and vegetation.
Helmeted guinea fowl are known to lay a clutch of between less than 10 and more than 20. Like the other genus and species, these guinea fowl will lay eggs in a hole in the ground and likewise prefer a hidden place.
Several hens will share a nest and have been known to take turns keeping guard. The hens even cover the nest with whatever is available, when it goes away. This is believed not only to camouflage the nest but also to retain moisture in the eggs.
Egg coloration is a whitish to light brown variation and is up to about 2 1/4 inches (5.5 cm) long.
Incubation is the same as for domestic birds, that is, between 26 and 28 days. Newborn keets have to grow fast. Although the hen is isolated from the flock during incubation, she soon rejoins when the keets are a couple of days old.