Helmeted Guineafowl

The helmeted guineafowl, commonly known as the tarantaal in South Africa (an Afrikaans term)

South Africa BirdlifeThe Helmeted Guineafowl {Numida meleagris}

The helmeted guineafowl, commonly known as the tarantaal in South Africa (an Afrikaans term), is a beautiful member of the guineafowl family, and is often seen in groups in the wild and in residential areas.

Helmeted guineafowl are characterised by their black or grey plumage with vivid white spots. Their bald faces and necks have blue skin with red wattles (males’ wattles are larger than those of the females). The beak is short and stout and there is a brown or orange helmet on their crown that has a triangular horn shape.

The wings are medium in size, with a rounded edge. Although they are accomplished flyers, they prefer to run on the ground.

Quick Facts

Size

Range mass: 1.3 – 1.8kg
Range length: 43 – 58cm
Range wingspan: 96cm.

Habitat

The helmeted guineafowl certainly shows a tendency towards open countryside and shrubby savannahs. However, it is flexible, and can be found in a variety of habitat types. Still, it is not found in rain forests or in arid areas.

Distribution

The helmeted guineafowl is found throughout the whole of South Africa.

Diet

These birds are omnivorous and they forage for food. They are opportunistic eaters and will dine on a variety of seeds, fruit, vegetables, snails, small mammals, worms, spiders, frogs, lizards, and small snakes. They usually feed in the early morning and late afternoon.

Socialisation

The gregarious helmeted guineafowl lives in groups of up to 200 birds. These will simply forage for food together, and will sometimes stick together to defend themselves and the flock against a predator. The males are dominant. Disputes are settled by chasing; the one that endures the most chasing is deemed to be at the top of the order. Males and females will fight for territory and will defend the flock.

Communication

These birds can be noisy and have a loud, grating sound when disturbed. There alarm call is defined as a staccato "chuk-chuk-chukchuker" or “kek-kek-kek”. When in the flock, the individuals communicate with one another by using a low-pitched “chuk” or “keerrr”.

Reproduction

It appears that the helmeted guineafowl is monogamous; that is, sticking with one mate for life. The males will fight very aggressively to impress the female (even to the death, in some cases). A shallow nest is scraped out of the ground in a spot that is relatively well-concealed by thick grasses or other vegetation. Once the 12 to 23 speckled eggs hatch, they are cared for by both of the parents.

The chicks are hatched in a well developed form, able to forage and care for themselves almost immediately. When they are only a week old, they are able to fly onto low branches. Because their breeding season extends from October to April, the chicks are born when it is relatively warm and dry in South Africa.

These birds reach sexual maturity at around two years of age.

Incubation

24 to 30 days.

Life Expectancy

Up to 15 years.

Threats

The helmeted guineafowl enjoys high population numbers. Domestic dogs and cats are responsible for catching and killing a fair number of the birds, and some farmers kill them as they feel that they are potentially damaging to the crops. In addition, birds of prey may sometimes make a meal of guineafowl.

References

About (Birding); SeaWorld; The Pheasants of the World; The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Birds; Biodiversity Explorer; SANBI.

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Helmeted Guineafowl
Conservation Status

  • Least concern

Did you know?

The males are dominant. Disputes are settled by chasing; the one that endures the most chasing is deemed to be at the top of the order.

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