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Our guineafowl can be found in the African Aviary between the Leanne B. Roberts African Region and the Jones Family Gorilla Preserve.
The helmeted guineafowl is a medium, chicken-sized bird with a round body and small head. They weigh 2.5 - 3.5 pounds and stand 15 - 22 inches. The wings are short and rounded, and the tail is small. Guineafowl have short necks that are absent of feathers; instead the neck is a brilliant shade of blue. The base of the beak, forehead, crown and tip of the waddle are red. Helmeted guineafowl are known for the variety in size, shape and color of their bony projection called a casque. The Reichenow’s subspecies have a tall, narrow, curved casque on top of their head. Males are a bit larger in size than their female counterparts and also have a more substantial casque.
Their plumage is grayish-black and speckled with white. Chicks are brownish-grey and barred with dark brown and juveniles are similar to adults in color but white dots are less noticeable.
Lifespan is 10-15 years.
Helmeted guineafowl are found throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, and has been widely introduced to North and South America, Australia and southern Europe. They prefer fairly dry, open woodlands, savanna, and scrublands.
They consume a variety seeds, fruit, bulbs, plant stems, small invertebrates, frogs, small reptiles and even small mammals. At the zoo, they eat a fortified chicken diet while also foraging for insects.
This is a gregarious species, forming large flocks of up to 200 for most of the year. During breeding season, however, they are found in small groups of about 25 birds. Guineafowl are often seen walking single-file while foraging; a “scout” takes the lead and alerts the group of potential danger. When threatened, they usually attempt to run and dash into dense vegetation but they will resort to fight if needed.
While male and female helmeted guineafowl differ in size, a more reliable way to tell them apart is by their distinctive vocalizations. Both make harsh cackles and quiet chirps but males emit an abrupt “chek” sound while females have a longer, two syllable “buck-wheat” call.
Breeding occurs in the rainy season throughout Africa. Prior to breeding males become aggressive and often engage in frantic chasing behaviors as they compete for females. Flocks break into temporary pairs for a few weeks before choosing a mate. Nests are made by scratching a shallow depression and filling it with grasses, leaves and feathers. Females incubate 6-12 eggs while the male stands guard. Chicks hatch after 23-28 days and fledge within 14 days. Young are cared for by both male and female but are able to begin foraging almost immediately.
Reichenow’s helmeted guineafowl are listed as least concern by the IUCN.