A definitive sound in the dawn chorus at this time of the year is the enthusiastic contribution from the Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris).
Returning to normal flock life after a lengthy breeding season that lasts from October through to April, they are highly gregarious and quite noisy as they go about their daily routine. Helmeted Guineafowls have a wide distribution in Africa, and although they are endemic to Africa they have been introduced to many other places in the world, including Australia, France and the West Indies. During the breeding season the birds pair off, making a very simple nest which amounts to a basic scraping on the ground, but is extremely well hidden, and usually unlined. The hens produce an average clutch of a dozen eggs. Incubation is 24 to 28 days. Chicks develop rapidly and begin with basic flight skills within their first week of life. Their lifespan is estimated at about 12 years.
Helmeted Guineafowls are not fussy eaters; they are omnivores, so they eat almost anything. Natural diets consist of seeds, insects, grubs, spiders, lizards and fruits.
A dozen interesting facts about Helmeted Guineafowls:
- They eat large volumes of ticks
- The young birds are called keets, and are cryptically coloured
- When feeding in gardens they seldom uproot or damage plants
- They are easily domesticated
- If alarmed, they may choose to run, rather than fly
- In a day they may walk/run up to 10kms
- They have strong claws, but no spurs
- It is the only member of the genus Numida
- Both parents look after the newly hatched chicks
- Large flocks may number up to 200 birds
- The helmet on the head is covered with horny cartilage
- Both sexes look and act alike (monomorphic and monochromatic)
- Leopards and jackals readily prey on Helmeted Guineafowls, and collectively their alarm signals are an attempted anti predator measure. They are alert birds and hardy survivors in a wide range of habitats.
Facts researched on the Internet; text by John Llewellyn.