Numididae – Guineafowl

Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris ©Trevor Hardaker Website

The family Numididae or Guineafowl are sometimes called ‘pet speckled hen’, or ‘original fowl’ or guineahen and are a family in the order Galliformes. They are endemic to the continent of Africa and rank among the oldest of the gallinaceous birds. They are phylogenetically intermediate between peafowl and the Odontophoridae. One Eocene fossil lineage, Telecrex, is represented by the Black Guineafowl, an extant species native to the primary forests of Central Africa. Telecrex, which inhabited Mongolia, may have given rise to the oldest of the true Tetraophasianids like Ithaginis and Crossoptilon, which evolved into high-altitude montane adapted species with the rise of the Tibetan Plateau. While modern guineafowl species are endemic to Africa, the Helmeted Guineafowl has been introduced widely elsewhere.

The insect eating and seed-eating, ground-nesting birds of this family resemble partridges, but with featherless heads, though both members of the genus Guttera have a distinctive black crest, and the Vulturine Guineafowl has a downy brown patch on the nape. Most species of guineafowl have a dark grey or blackish plumage with dense white spots, but both members of the genus Agelastes lack the spots (as do some wild variants of the Helmeted Guineafowl). While several species are relatively well known, the Plumed Guineafowl and the two members of the genus Agelastes remain relatively poorly known. These large birds measure from 40–71 cm (16–28 inches) in length, and weigh 700–1600 grams or 1.5-3.5 pounds.

The species for which information is known are normally monogamous, mating for life, or are serially monogamous; however, occasional exceptions have been recorded for Helmeted and Kenya Crested Guineafowl, which have been reported to be polygamous in captivity. All guineafowl are social, and typically live in small groups or large flocks. Though they are monogamous, species of the least-derived genera Guttera, Agelastes and Acryllium tend toward social polyandry, a trait shared with other primitive galliformes like roul roul, and Congo peafowl.

Guineafowl travel behind herd animals and beneath monkey troops where they forage within manure and on items that have fallen to the understory from the canopy. They play a pivotal role in the control of ticks, flies, locusts, scorpions and other invertebrates. They pluck maggots from carcasses and manure.

Wild guineafowl are, without exception, strong fliers. Their breast muscles are dark, enabling them[clarification needed] to sustain themselves in flight for considerable distances if hard-pressed. Grass and bush fires are a constant threat to these galliformes and flight is the most effective escape.

Some species of guineafowl, like the Vulturine, may go without drinking water for extended periods, instead sourcing their moisture from their food. Young guineafowl are very sensitive to weather, in particular cold temperatures.

Guineafowl species are found across sub-Saharan Africa, some almost in the entire range, others more localized, such as the Plumed Guineafowl in west-central Africa and the Vulturine Guineafowl in north-east Africa. They live in semi-open habitats such as savanna or semideserts, while some, such as the Black Guineafowl, mainly inhabit forests. Some perch high on treetops. The Helmeted Guinea fowl has been introduced in East Africa, the West Indies, the United States, Britain, and India, where it is raised as food or pets.

According to the IOC there are just six species in this family, which are:

White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides
Black Guineafowl Agelastes niger

Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris

Plumed Guineafowl Guttera plumifera
Crested Guineafowl Guttera pucherani

Vulturine Guineafowl Acryllium vulturinum

Species Links
  • Black Guineafowl Agelastes niger

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Black Guineafowl Agelastes niger

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Black Guineafowl Agelastes niger

    Species Account
    The black guineafowl, (Agelastes niger), is a member of the guineafowl bird family. It occurs in humid forests in Central Africa where it is often heard but seldom seen. It is a medium-sized black bird with a bare pink head and upper neck. Little is known of its behaviour.
  • Black Guineafowl Agelastes niger

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Phasidus niger Cassin, 1857, Cape Lopez, Gabon.Formerly placed in monotypic genus Phasidus, but thought to be closely related to A. meleagrides. Monotypic.
  • Crested Guineafowl Guttera pucherani

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Crested Guineafowl Guttera pucherani

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Numida Pucherani Hartlaub, 1861, Zanzibar.
  • Crested Guineafowl Guttera pucherani

    IUCN Species Status
  • Crested Guineafowl Guttera pucherani

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Crested Guineafowl Guttera pucherani

    Species Account
    The crested guineafowl (Guttera pucherani) is a member of the Numididae, the guineafowl bird family. It is found in open forest, woodland and forest-savanna mosaics in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris

    Species Account
    The helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris) is the best known of the guineafowl bird family, Numididae, and the only member of the genus Numida. It is native to Africa, mainly south of the Sahara, and has been widely introduced into the West Indies, Brazil, Australia and Europe (e.g. southern France).
  • Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris

    IUCN Species Status
  • Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Phasianus meleagris Linnaeus, 1758, upper Nile, Nubia, Sudan.
  • Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Plumed Guineafowl Guttera plumifera

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Plumed Guineafowl Guttera plumifera

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Numida plumifera Cassin, 1857, Cape Lopez, Gabon.Closely related to G. pucherani. Races intergrade in NE Congo. Two subspecies recognized.
  • Plumed Guineafowl Guttera plumifera

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Plumed Guineafowl Guttera plumifera

    Species Account
    The plumed guineafowl (Guttera plumifera) is a member of the guineafowl bird family. It is found in humid primary forest in Central Africa. It resembles some subspecies of the crested guineafowl, but has a straighter (not curled) and higher crest, and a relatively long wattle on either side of the bill. The bare skin on the face and neck is entirely dull grey-blue in the western nominate subspecies, while there are a few orange patches among the grey-blue in the eastern subspecies schubotzi.
  • Vulturine Guineafowl Acryllium Vulturinum

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile...
  • Vulturine Guineafowl Acryllium Vulturinum

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account...…
  • Vulturine Guineafowl Acryllium Vulturinum

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Vulturine Guineafowl Acryllium Vulturinum

    Species Account
    The vulturine guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum) is the largest extant species of guineafowl. Systematically, it is only distantly related to other guineafowl genera.
  • White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides

    BirdLife Species Account
  • White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Agelastes meleagrides Bonaparte, 1850, no locality = Ghana. Thought to be closely related to A. niger. Monotypic.
  • White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides

    IUCN Species Status
  • White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides

    Species Account
    The white-breasted guineafowl (Agelastes meleagrides) is a medium-sized, up to 45 cm long, terrestrial bird of the guineafowl family. It has a black plumage with a small, bare red head, white breast, long black tail, greenish brown bill and greyish feet. The sexes are similar, although the female is slightly smaller than the male.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 6

Useful Reading
  • Pheasants, Partridges & Grouse

    A Guide to the Pheasants, Partridges, Quails, Grouse, Guineafowl, Buttonquails and Sandgrouse of the World by Steve Madge & Phil McGowan Helm 2002 ISBN: 0713639660 Buy this book from NHBS.com

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