Grain-eating birds

Guinea hen

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Guinea hen (Numida meleagris)

The common guinea hen or just guinea hen is the best-known member of the Numididae family and the only species in the Numida genus. Its native habitat is Africa, mainly south of the Sahara desert, but it is widespread in the West Indies, Brazil, Australia and southern France, too.

The guinea hen belongs to the Hens order. The guinea hens are close relatives of hens, turkeys, pheasants, quails and peacocks. The homeland of this bird species is the African continent, where can still be found wild representatives today, but it is also found in southern Europe, on the island of Madagascar, the Comoros, the Hawaiian Islands and the Antilles. The time and history of the domestication of this interesting decorative bird is not fully understood, but it is known that the guinea hen was brought to Europe from the then existing North African country of Numandia. It has been established that the ancient Greeks and Romans bred guinea hens. Every breed of guinea hen in Greece was a sacrificial bird. However, later, for a long period of time, during the early Middle Ages in Europe, nothing is known about these birds, and apparently there were none. It was only in the 14th century that Portuguese sailors brought them from Guinea to the New World, from where they were later re-introduced to Europe. The famous naturalist - Carl Linnaeus called this species Numida Melegris (NUMIDA MELEAGRIS).

The first word means the homeland - Numidia, and the second one is related to the myth of the Greek hero - Meleager. In 1550, in many places in Italy and France, the guinea hens were already being bred. Today they are spread almost all over Africa, Europe, the USA, etc. as domestic ornamental birds.

The common guinea hen is a large bird about 53 – 58 cm long, with a rounded body and a small head. It weighs about 1.3 kg. The plumage of its body is gray-black, sprinkled with white spots. This species lacks head plumage and instead it has a yellowish or reddish bony structure and red-blue skin areas. Its wings are short and round-shaped, and its tail is also short.

The common guinea hens live in flocks, usually consisting of about 25 individuals. They are good runners and can cover 10 km or more per day. When they feel threatened they make loud hoarse sounds. Their menu consists of various plant and animal food: seeds, fruit, leaves, snails, spiders, worms and insects, frogs, lizards and small mammals. The guinea hens have strong claws which help them dig up the soil in searching food, similar to domestic birds. They try to look scarier by raising their wings, fluffing their feathers, and running forward with widely open beaks.

Their nest is well hidden, usually in a hole dug in the dirt. The hatch usually consists of 6 – 12 eggs, which the female incubates for 26 – 28 days. When nests containing more eggs are found, it is thought that the nest is shared by more than one female, as the eggs are large and the brooding bird is not able to cover an area larger than that of one normal hatch.

The chicks have protective coloration. The rapid growth of their wings allows them to flutter to the low branches only a week after hatching.

The common guinea hen inhabits warm, fairly dry and open areas with sparse shrub and tree vegetation, such as savannahs and cultivated lands.