Helmeted guinea fowl are widely distributed across central and southern Africa. They are found in all sorts of open country, including savannah woodlands, scrub, dry thornbush, agricultural areas, and park-like settings. They are especially abundant in habitat that offers a mix of savannah and cultivated fields. To inhabit a given area, they must have access to drinking water, dense cover, and trees in which to roost.
Helmeted guinea fowl are active, gregarious birds that travel in flocks. Each flock is socially complex, with a distinct pecking order among the males, and retains the same members for several years. Every flock has a general territory that it defends, and females join males in that defense. A flock also will try to defend itself from predators, and is often loud and aggressive enough to succeed against many predators on land and in the sky! If necessary, though, a flock will scatter, run for cover, and sit tight until danger passes. Only during breeding season does a flock temporarily disperse into monogamous pairs and small groups of non-breeders.
By day, helmeted guinea fowl are on the ground foraging, preening, and taking dust baths. At first light, a flock might be seen heading single file toward the nearest drinking hole. They stay busy in the early morning and in the late afternoon but will rest in the shade during the heat of the day. In the evening, the flock returns to its communal roosting site in the trees.
Helmeted guinea fowl feed on a combination of seeds, corn kernels, sedge tubers, and insects, preferably grasshoppers or termites. When feeding in corn fields, the birds feed only on the kernels of fallen or discarded cobs. Therefore, they are not regarded by farmers as pests.
Helmeted guinea fowl are extremely talkative. They use many different calls but are probably best known for their loud, cackling alarm cry.
Wild flocks of helmeted guinea fowl have many predators. Local populations also may be affected by hunting and egg collecting, but generally speaking helmeted guinea fowl are common wherever the land will support them.
At the beginning of the breeding season, when males are courting prospective mates, they become aggressive toward each other. The day is punctuated by fights and chases that may last 5 to 10 minutes and involve several males at once. A fight ends when the defeated bird crouches in submission or runs from the scene. During courtship, males display for the females and makes food offerings.
As pairs form and become stable, males vigorously defend their females from other males and predators. Pairs will choose a nesting site in tall grass or some other form of dense cover and build a nest on the ground by scraping out a depression and lining it with grass, feathers, and other soft materials.
A female lays 6-12 eggs on successive days and begins to incubate the entire clutch when the last egg is laid. Only she incubates the eggs, and when on the nest she remains silent and still. After 24 to 27 days, the eggs hatch almost simultaneously. Until their young (called “keets”) are able to fend for themselves, both parents keep their distance from the flock and defend their keets from predators. In the absence of the male, a brood is likely to perish quickly. Within 1 to 3 months, the parent birds and their young rejoin the flock.
Helmeted guinea fowl are classified as a species of “least concern” by the IUCN, the world’s leading conservation organization, because of their abundance and extensive range.