These chicken-like birds weigh 1.5 to 3.5 pounds (0.7 to 1.6 kilograms) and measure 15.5 to 28.2 inches (40 to 72 centimeters) long. Their bills are short and their legs are strong. Some have small spurs on their legs, while others have a long, sharp spur on each leg. Still others have none at all. The tail is short and points downward. Some guineafowl have wattles that hang from the bottom of their bills. Males are generally larger than females.
Plumage (feathers) varies in color, from black with a brown wave design to black with white wavy lines or white spots. The head is usually bare for the most part, with small patches of feathers on some species. Skin color on the head varies.
Guineafowl are native to Africa and Madagascar.
Though primarily found in rainforests, some guineafowl live in open-country habitats other than the desert, such as grasslands and plains with thickets and brush. Others prefer secondary forests, which are forests that grow after a major disturbance such as logging or fire occurs.
Some guineafowl eat small invertebrates (animals without backbones) and a variety of plants. Others also eat berries and other fruit in trees as well as bulbs dug up from underground. Flocks will crowd each other in order to eat, but they don’t fight with their bills during feeding. Most species need to drink water to thrive.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Guineafowl live in groups of up to twenty individuals, with the exception of the vulturine guineafowl, which live in flocks of twenty to thirty). These birds roost (rest) in trees during the night and call to one another. Calls vary according to species and are used not only to locate flock members but to warn of intruders. The crested guineafowl has been known to socialize with vervet monkeys. While the monkeys eat from the treetops, the guineafowl feed below on fruit and feces that fall from the trees. Monkeys help protect the birds by warning of danger from above while the birds warn monkeys of danger on the ground. Feeding usually occurs in the early dawn hours.
During breeding, pairs form monogamous (muh-NAH-guhmus; one male to one female mate) bonds and breed throughout the year. Clutch sizes vary from as few as seven to as many as twenty-three eggs of various colors. Chicks are born with a soft down covering and can usually flutter-fly by the age of two to three weeks.
Guineafowl hide from their predators in trees and thickets. They also will choose to run rather than fly when in danger. Their primary enemies are hawks, owls, and other meat-eating animals. Average life span is unknown.
GUINEAFOWL AND PEOPLE
Guineafowl have been domesticated (tamed) and are a popular “pet” bird known for their ability to keep Lyme disease at bay by eating the ticks that carry it.
The white-breasted guineafowl is listed as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction, due to hunting and habitat destruction. No other species are threatened.