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the web of life in southern Africa

Numida meleagris (Helmeted guineafowl)

Numida meleagris (Helmeted guineafowl) Gewone tarentaal [Afrikaans]; Impangele [Xhosa]; iMpangele [Zulu]; Nkanga [Kwangali]; Khaka [South Sotho]; Kgaka [North Sotho]; Hanga [Shona]; Imphangele [Swazi]; Mhanghela [Tsonga]; Kgaka [Tswana]; Helmparelhoen [Dutch]; Pintade de Numidie [French]; Helmperlhuhn [German]; Pintada da Guiné [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Galliformes > Family: Numididae

Numida meleagris (Helmeted guineafowl) Numida meleagris (Helmeted guineafowl)
Helmeted guineafowls with chicks, Kleinmond, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©] Helmeted guineafowls chick, Kleinmond, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©]

Distribution and habitat

Widespread in Africa south of the Sahara, but generally absent from rain forest and desert. Within southern Africa, its distribution has expanded with the spread of agriculture. Evidently, before 1900 it did not occur in what is now known as the Western Cape.

Distribution of Helmeted guineafowl in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites


  • Omnivorous
    • Invertebrates (predominate in breeding season)
      • Insects: e.g. grasshoppers, termites
    • Plant matter (predominates in non-breeding season):
      • bulbs
      • plant stems (e.g. of Cyperus species)
      • seeds (e.g. Devil's thorn Tribulus terrestris)


  • The nest is made by the female and consists of a scrape in the ground lined with grass stems and feathers and hidden among grass or other vegetation.
Numida meleagris (Helmeted guineafowl)  

Helmeted guineafowl nest with eggs, Sericea farm, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Breeding season. Breeding generally follows good rains. Laying dates:
    • Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe: January - March
    • South Africa - summer rainfall region: peak from October to March
    • South Africa - winter rainfall region: peak from September to December 
  • There can be as many as 41 eggs in a single nest but this is due to egg dumping by other females. Thought that clutches of up to 12 eggs can be attributed to a single female. One egg is laid per day and the female then incubates the clutch for 24-27 days before they hatch. She sits tight for long periods, only feeding for one or two short periods per day. Meanwhile, the male has gone off court other unpaired females and mate with them. However, he gets back to the female soon after the chicks hatch. 
  • Chicks are precocial and can feed for themselves within 24 hours. They can fly short distances by 14 days old. Downy appearance is lost after 3 weeks and by 5 weeks they have juvenile plumage. 
  • In the first two weeks of life for the chicks, the male cares for them most of all (up to 80% of his time) - helping to locate insects for them and brooding them at night. Meanwhile, the female is recovering from the time she spent incubating when she was not able to feed very much. 
  • Male and female attack potential predators such as baboons and jackals.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.