It is often seen wandering the plains of Africa and cutting to the ground for food. The pharaoh family is made up of about seven to ten species, each with its own unique appearance and behavior. Together they fill an ecological niche similar to many other large birds elsewhere.
- The painted helmet is the only species of the family domesticated by man as a food source, performing a function similar to that of the chicken. They are sometimes mixed with other birds because their naturally harsh sounds serve as a warning against predators or because they control Lyme-carrying ticks and other parasites.
- Guinea fowl can sometimes crossbreed with chickens and poultry. Depending on compatibility, they can sometimes even produce viable offspring together.
- Most pharaohs have the ability to go long periods of time without water.
Where to Find
These birds are completely endemic to the warm tropical forests, savannas, scrublands, agricultural lands, and even semi-deserts of sub-Saharan Africa. Occasionally, flocks of these birds also roam in urban areas. They have various adaptations to cope with the harsher African climate.
The painted helmet is probably the most common and widespread of all species. Occupying a huge expanse of land south of the Sahara, the helmeted guinea fowl has nine recognized subspecies, as well as a domesticated variant. The domestic guinea fowl is the only species in this family that has been widely introduced to other parts of the world.
Guinea fowl nests
When breeding season arrives, the bird builds common nests in isolated, shallow depressions. Lined with light vegetation, these nests are usually hidden in shelters to prevent predators from consuming the eggs. The male is usually the one who watches over the nest.
The scientific name for the pharaoh family is Numididae. This is the Latin name for the ancient Numidia region, which was part of the Roman Empire and is now covered by the country of Algeria. In reality, the scientific name is a bit of a misnomer, because all the species are native to sub-Saharan Africa and not Algeria. These birds belong to the order of the Galliformes along with quails, partridges, pheasants, peacocks, hens, and turkeys.
Guinea Fowl Appearance
These birds have a large, curved body with a short beak, a curved posture, a very long neck, and a rather gray, featherless head (which probably serves to release excess heat). They are 16 to 28 inches long and weigh up to 4 pounds. Most species have black or brown feathers with white markings on them, but the aptly named white-breasted guinea fowl also has a white-colored breast.
The head is usually covered with a combination of red, blue, brown, or tan. However, some species show some exotic traps. Both the feathered and crested guinea pigs wear a black crest on their head, while vultures have a series of spear-shaped feathers that visibly protrude from the body. Despite the name, the vulture guinea fowl bears only a superficial resemblance to the vulture. This species is in all other respects a pure guinea fowl.
These birds are very sociable and sociable birds that are organized in flocks of different sizes. These common herds often spend the day pecking the ground in search of food and use their strong claws to dig into the earth. They are most active in the morning and late afternoon when the heat is more tolerable, but at night they go to the trees to sleep. The flock remains very close and sometimes moves on a single line.
Birds communicate with each other through harsh, repetitive sounds that are distinctive of sex. They are generally a friendly group, but interactions between males can sometimes escalate into dangerous and bloody fights. To look larger, males will spread their wings, ruffle their feathers, and make aggressive sounds. Sometimes they charge each other to hurt or injure themselves.
Although the chest and wings are very strong, the guinea fowl is by no means a migratory or flying bird. It is a land bird that prefers to stay on the ground and overtake its predators, but its wings allow it to escape particularly difficult situations with short bursts of flight.
Guinea Fowl Reproduction
The helmeted guinea fowl, which is the most studied and best understood species, forms a close monogamous bond with only one mate during its lifetime. The pair’s nest can hold up to 20 eggs at a time, but these nests are common in nature and can contain eggs from multiple pairs.
As seasonal breeders, these birds typically lay their eggs in spring and summer, just after the peak of annual rainfall, when resources are most abundant. The chicks or keets, as they are often called, emerge from the eggs after about four weeks of incubation. Born with soft feathers, birds can begin walking with their parents immediately, but they still need several months to grow, learn the ropes, and develop their full flight feathers.
Parents are very involved in taking care of their children to give them the best chance of success. They are naturally inclined to share tasks: the mother hatches the eggs, while the father stands guard and provides protection. After about eight months to a year, the offspring are ready to start a new independent life.
They will reach sexual maturity at two years of age, but the female has only limited time to reproduce. Their egg production capacity often slows down at five years and stops completely at eight. If it survives long enough, the guinea fowl’s life expectancy is between 10 and 15 years.
These birds are a very common family and are widely distributed across most of sub-Saharan Africa. According to the IUCN Red List, which tracks their conservation status, seven species are classified as of least concern, the best possible classification. Only the white-breasted guinea pig is vulnerable to extinction. Population data is difficult to obtain, but just to take one species, it is believed that at least 10,000 mature vulture pharaohs were left in the wild.
These birds have some advantages over other animals. First, they can adapt to a variety of different habitats and circumstances, from forests to lowlands. Second, because domesticated birds are bred for meat, wild guinea fowls are hardly bothered by humans. Indeed, human activity can benefit them, as we hunt and eliminate their largest predators.