The helmeted guineafowl is a large (53-58 cm) bird with a round body and small head. They weigh about 1.3 kg. The body plumage is gray-black spangled with white. Like other guineafowl, this species has an unfeathered head, in this case decorated with a dull yellow or reddish bony knob, and red and blue patches of skin. The wings are short and rounded, and the tail is also short. Various sub-species are proposed, differences in appearance being mostly a large variation in shape, size and colour of the casque and facial wattles This is a gregarious species, forming flocks outside the breeding season typically of about 25 birds that also roost communally. Guineafowl are particularly well-suited to consuming massive quantities of ticks, which might otherwise spread lyme disease. These birds are terrestrial, and prone to run rather than fly when alarmed. Like most gallinaceous birds, they have a short-lived explosive flight and rely on gliding to cover extended distances. Helmeted guineafowl are great runners, and can walk 10 km and more in a day.
Habitat and Distribution
It breeds in warm, fairly dry and open habitats with scattered shrubs and trees such as savanna or farmland. Flocks of guineafowl have flourished in recent years in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, where they seem to have adapted remarkably well. The flocks move slowly along the quieter suburban roads, looking for food on the grassy 'pavements' and in gardens where the fence is low enough for some to enter without feeling separated from the flock. They often roost at night on the roofs of bungalows.
Their diet consists of a variety of animal and plant food; seeds, fruits, greens, snails, spiders, worms and insects, frogs, lizards, small snakes and small mammals. Guineafowl are equipped with strong claws and scratch in loose soil for food much like domestic chickens, although they seldom uproot growing plants in so doing.
The nest is a well-hidden, generally unlined scrape and a clutch is normally 6-12 eggs which the female incubates for 26-28 days. Nests containing larger numbers of eggs are generally believed to be the result of more than one hen using the nest; eggs are large and an incubating bird could not realistically cover significantly more than a normal clutch. Domestic birds at least, are notable for producing extremely thick-shelled eggs that are reduced to fragments as the keets hatch, rather than leaving two large sections and small chips from where any keet has removed the end of the egg. It has been noted that domesticated guinea hens are not the best of mothers, and will often abandon their nests. The keets are cryptically coloured and rapid wing growth enables them to flutter onto low branches barely a week after hatching. These guineafowl live as long as 12 years in the wild.
Calls and Songs
They make loud harsh calls when disturbed.