One of the most common of the larger, easily recognized birds often seen along the quieter roads in southern Africa is the Helmeted guineafowl. They gather in fairly large flocks and are somewhat reluctant fliers, often allowing motorists to approach quite closely, usually trying to escape by running and only taking to the air if they continue to feel threatened.
They are fairly large birds, with a length of approximately 56 cm and are very distinctive with their round bodies which are black and heavily spotted with white; their heads are small, with red facial skin and a red or yellow bony casque contrasting with the blue skin of the upper neck and cheeks. Wings are short and rounded and the tail is also short. Legs and feet are black; eyes brown and the bill yellow. The females and males are alike in plumage colouration and the males are slightly larger than the females.
Helmeted guineafowl are found throughout large parts of Africa south of the Sahara, and have been introduced into a number of other countries as diverse as France and Brazil. In southern Africa they are widespread, inhabiting areas from those of semi-desert to those of heavy rainfall.
They are omnivorous, feeding on insects as well as grain, seeds, roots and berries.
Helmeted guineafowl can be quite noisy, with a loud staccato call “kek-kek-kek-kek” and often with many birds calling at the same time.
Helmeted guineafowl are monogamous and their nests are just shallow scrapes in the ground, usually well concealed in patches of grass or in thickets of bushes. The female lays a clutch of six to twelve eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 28 days.
The scientific binomial for the Helmeted guineafowl is Numida meleagris; Numida from the Latin for Nubia, an ancient region is northern Sudan and southern Egypt, and meleagris from Meleager, a hero venerated in Greek mythology, Thus a Greek mythological hero from the ancient region of Nubia. Just what this description has to do with a spotted fowl-like bird escapes me entirely!