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Guineafowl

Guineafowl

Guineafowl are six species of medium-sized terrestrial birds in the family Numididae, order Galliformes, which also includes other fowl-like birds, such as the grouse, ptarmigan, turkey, quail, peafowl, and pheasants. Guineafowl have sometimes been incorporated as a subfamily in the Phasianidae, the family that includes pheasants, grouse, prairie-chickens, and the wild turkey.

The natural range of guineafowl is sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar. However, these birds have been introduced to some other places, and are commonly kept in aviculture. The usual habitats of guineafowl are open forests, savannas, and grasslands.

The range of body length of guineafowl is 17-29 in (43-75 cm). Their head and the upper part of their neck are devoid of feathers, but the skin is brightly colored in hues of blue, red, yellow, or gray. Some species have a bony structure known as a casque on the top of their head, while others have a wattle or other types of colored protuberances. Their bill is short but stout, the wings rather short and rounded, and the legs and feet are large and used for running and scratching in litter for their food of insects, seeds, roots, and rhizomes. The plumage is dark colored, but patterned with white spots and bars. The sexes are similar in shape and color.

Guineafowl are terrestrial birds. They are powerful fliers, but only over a short distance. Guineafowl generally prefer to run swiftly from danger rather than fly. These birds do not migrate.

The nests are crude scrapes on the ground, containing 2-20 eggs, which are brooded by the female. Both sexes care for the hatched young. Guineafowl are highly gregarious birds, occurring in large flocks, especially during the non-breeding season, when they may also wander extensively. These flocks scatter readily when any bird perceives danger and utters an alarm call. The flock re-assembles later, as soon as one of the older, more-experienced males sounds an all-clear call.

The largest and most ornamentally plumaged species is the vulturine guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum ) of central and east Africa. This is a relatively tall species, with long legs, an elongate neck, blue-skinned head, long downward hanging neck feathers known as hackles, a cobalt-blue breast, and a black body with white spots and stripes.

The helmeted or domestic guineafowl (Numida meleagris ) is originally from a wide range in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is commonly hunted as a game bird, as are other wild species of guineafowl. However, the helmeted guineafowl has also been domesticated. This species has long been kept in domestication in Africa and now more widely in tropical and south-temperate climates. Wild, naturalized populations also occur beyond the original range of this species, probably including the wild birds of Madagascar and smaller islands in the Indian Ocean, but also in Central America. The domestic guineafowl is kept as a source of meat and eggs, although it is used for these purposes much less commonly than the domestic chicken (Gallus gallus, family Phasianidae). The domestic guineafowl is also commonly kept as a pet.

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