Birds – The Guinea Fowls

The Guinea-Fowls (subfamily Numidince), typified by the well-known domestic bird, are all natives of Africa and take their name from the country whence they were first introduced into Europe. As at present accepted, the group includes five genera and some twenty-three species, although two West African species, the Black Guinea-Fowl (Phasidus niger) and the Turkey Guinea-Fowl (Agelastes meleagrides), are anomalous in a number of particulars, and have sometimes been separated as a distinct subfamily.

The true Guinea-Fowls (Numida), of which fourteen species are well known, are characterized by having the upper part of the head bare and elevated in the center into a bony crest or helmet. The common domestic species (N. Meleagris) is found wild in West Africa from Senegambia to the Niger, and also in the Cape Verde Islands, and in some of the West Indies, where it was, of course, introduced. It is too well known to require description, as it has been changed very little by domestication. The Guinea-Fowls are gregarious, often gathering in large flocks, but they are extremely wild and difficult of approach. They escape by running with great swiftness, although they fly strongly when flushed. The species are all rather closely allied, the illustration being of Pallas’s Helmeted Guinea-Fowl (N. Murata) of East Africa and Madagascar.

The Crested Guinea-Fowls (Guttera) have a thick tuft of feathers on the top of the head instead of the bony helmet, but otherwise differ but little from the true Guinea-Fowls. One of the best of the six known species now recognized is G. cristata, found in West Africa from Sierra Leone to the Gold Coast. The plumage is black, spotted with pale blue, and the crest black, while some four or five of the outer secondaries are pure white, thus producing a white band when the wing is closed. There is also a black collar.

The Vulturine Guinea-Fowl (Acryllium vulturinum) is by far the handsomest of the group. It is native from Somaliland to Kilimanjaro, and has the head and upper part of the neck naked and covered with cobalt-blue skin, with the exception of a patch of short chestnut feathers on the nape. The lower part of the neck and the upper portion of the back and breast are covered with long, narrow feathers, each having a white shaft-stripe with cobalt-blue margins. The mantle is black, minutely dotted with white, while the flanks are purple spotted with white, and the middle of the breast a beautiful cobalt-blue. The tail, which has the middle feathers long, narrow, and pointed, is similarly colored.

The Black Guinea-Fowl and the Turkey Guinea-Fowl, as above stated, are peculiar in having spurs, thus approaching the Jungle-Fowls. They are hand-some birds, but extremely rare, and practically nothing is known of their habits.