Sunday, January 18, 2015

Really Weird Birds: Vulturine Guineafowl

Vulturine Guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinumare found in sub-Saharan Africa, from Uganda to eastern Kenya.  Their habitat consists of dry desert areas with patches of scrub, bushes, and tall grass.

Currently, there are seven species of guineafowl, all found in Africa.  This family of birds is related to turkeys, grouse, quail, pheasants and chickens (Order Galliformes).

 Vulturine Guineafowl showing full plumage (photo: the wikipedia files)

Vulturine guineafowl are the tallest and most colorful of the guineafowl.  They have longer wings, necks, legs, and tails than any other in their family.  An individual stands between 2 and 2.5 feet tall and weighs between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds. 

They have mostly a cobalt blue body with black and white striped feathers draping from the neck and small white dots on the side and back feathers.  What makes them strange is that they have mostly featherless faces and heads like vultures, except for some fluffy brown feathers on the back of their head (which resembles a monk’s haircut!).  They also have featherless necks.  Their skin is bluish-gray and their eyes are red.  Other guineafowl have featherless heads as well, but this species, especially up close, looks like a vulture.
Vulturine Guineafowl closeup - notice the bald head which resembles that of a vulture (photo: the wikipedia files)
Vulturine guineafowl are usually seen living in groups of 25-30.  Males and females look the same, with the female being slightly smaller.  Males tend to be aggressive towards females most of the time.  One way to tell them apart is by looking at their posture.  Males tend to stand as tall as possible.  In contrast females portray a more submissive posture.

Females lay 3-18 eggs, and sometimes nests contain eggs from more than one mother.  The shells are very thick and hard to crack and the chicks outgrow the egg and break out rather than chip their way out.  They are well developed when they hatch and are ready to fly within a few days.

Vulturine Guineafowl are omnivorous and eat seeds, roots, grubs, rodents, small reptiles, and insects.  When there is competition for food, they have been known to fatally injure their own kind, and even chicks will attack one another!

This species in not threatened or endangered in the wild.  These birds do well in captivity and can become very tame.  They are popular and highly sought after in aviculture.

The next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary be sure to check out this unusual bird’s relatives—the turkeys and chickens that reside on our display line.

Submitted by Sara Oliver, former World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist          

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