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Helmeted Guinea Fowl

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Scientific name: Numida meleagris

Other common names: Guineafowl; Helmeted Guineafowl; Tufted Guineafowl

The basics:
The Helmeted Guinea Fowl is a widely distributed, highly successful species found in scrubby or grassy habitats over most of Africa south of the Sahara Desert. They are bold, aggressive, and loud birds who are highly regarded in the southern United States for their ability to find and challenge snakes, and farmers everywhere respect these voracious insect eaters for controlling pests like ticks. Gourmets appreciate them for their tasty yet lean meat. They are capable of flight but generally choose to run when they need to. A 1992 study showed that Helmeted Guinea Fowl were successful in reducing the population of Lyme disease infested deer ticks in test lawns in the northeastern United States, but perhaps the treatment has not been implemented as often as it could be because of their well-earned reputation for being extremely noisy.

Appearance:
The natural wild or “pearl” gray form of the striking Helmeted Guinea Fowl is represented by nine subspecies, all of which possess the chunky body sporting white pin dots (miniature polka dots) on dark plumage. The naked head is topped by a strange knob or crest, also made of bare flesh, instead of being made of feathers like the crests of most birds. They may be tough to sex just by looking but males tend to have larger, better developed knobs. However, as a further twist, there are 9 subspecies, with some subspecies offering smaller knobs than others. As a widely domesticated species, Helmeted Guinea Fowl are available in a number of color mutations, including white, royal purple, lavender, bronze, copper, various shades of blue, chamois, and many more. In some birds, the pin dots or “pearls” are missing, so that the plumage is a smooth solid color.

Average weight:
1.4 - 1.8 kilograms (3 - 4 lbs.)

Lifespan:
10 - 15 years

Health:
Helmeted Guinea Fowl, like any other poultry that ranges over the ground, may be susceptible to worm infections. A good veterinarian is your best advisor at how to de-worm your birds. Coccidiosis should be battled by providing a scrupulously clean coop. Be aware that these insect-eaters have a very high need for protein. If you are raising the youngsters, known as keets, you must be careful to supply crumbles with the right amount of protein to prevent sudden death.

Behavior / temperament:
The Helmeted Guinea Fowl has won fame all over the world as a watchbird because it is both brave and noisy. However, the Guinea alarm can go off for all kinds of reasons -- not just poisonous snakes on the property, but vehicles, visitors, you name it. You are not going to be able to train them just to say, “Rattlesnake!” so be sure that you are not near any neighbors who would be annoyed by their alarm call.

Like many other kinds of fowl, the Helmeted Guinea Fowl can have a pecking order, and males in particular can get somewhat scrappy with each other. Make sure you have enough room and cover for everyone. Females can't count. If another female dumps some eggs in her nest, she will be happy to raise those babies too, and sometimes you will be entertained by the sight of a hen leading quite a large train of youngsters. However, be realistic. A great many birds have lost the ability to brood or raise their own young, and it can be very helpful to also have some Bantams on your property to brood and rear the youngsters.

Housing:
Gourmets are not the only ones who appreciate dining on a tasty Helmeted Guinea Fowl. Train these birds to return to a secure roost or enclosure at night, so that they won't be a victim of night-time predators. It is important to start from an early age, so that the birds will follow you pretty much without question. Experts suggest having a light on a timer in the coop that goes on automatically before sunset, since Guineas are chary of entering a dark place. They are from a warm and even a hot climate, so you need to be able to provide heat to the shelter during cold winters.

In the day time, you just have to listen up. When Guineas spot a problem or a predator, they will be certain to let you know. If you put them in a garden to eat insect pests, you should supervise to make sure they don't decide to rip out the plants to make a dust bowl.

Diet:
Helmeted Guinea Fowls are considered omnivorous birds who aren't afraid to eat almost anything that doesn't run away fast enough, be it seeds, insects, ticks, small frogs, snakes, lizards, and even rodents. However, they have a huge appetite for insects and similar “bugs” like ticks, which is one reason they are so highly regarded on lawns, in gardens, and around the farmyard. Obviously, for many people, these birds prove most useful (and most beautiful) when allowed to free range around the property for their own food. However, be prepared to supplement the diet with a high quality game bird or laying crumble, as well as plenty of greens and grains. Adult females generally require a calcium supplement. There should always be access to clean water.

Written by Elaine Radford

wonderful

fine quality meat, ornamental bird, tick population, weed control, entertaining, insect control, free range

challenging

shrieking alarm calls, loud, Shear VOLUME, wander, noisy birds, flighty, high pitch noise

interesting

various colours, free range bird, high fertility rate, autistic support flock, alert sentries

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