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Galliformes-part 3 Guineafowl and Turkey {Bird Orders}

Updated on July 16, 2015


Taken in South Africa
Taken in South Africa | Source


In this series, we have, in part-1 looked at the habitat,distribution and general characteristics of the Galliformes,an order of birds such as poultry and those that look like poultry. In part-2 we looked at two species of pheasants and the peacock. Here in part 3 we review two more typical and familiar species,the Guineafowl and the Turkey.

We commence with the Guineafowl. This bird is originally from Africa,or at least a native of south west Asia only, in addition to the African continent.However, it was introduced into various parts of Europe,Asia and America as a domestic bird. In a domestic state the Guineafowl { once commonly referred to as the Pintado} is not as profitable as the common fowl,chiefly because the females are less attentive to their young and the number bred with the same labour is consequently smaller.

Guineafowl with chickens

Taken in Brazil.
Taken in Brazil. | Source

Close up of the head of a Guineafowl.


Main characteristics of the Guineafowl

The main characteristics are the Bill is short, the upper mandible is curved ,convexed and arched in the culmen {a dorsal ridge of the upper mandible,likened to the ridge line of a roof},and covered at the base with a warty membrane. There is a sort of caruriculated {striated] wattle suspended from the upper mandible.

The nostrils are placed in the membrane,at the base of the upper mandible and half covered by cartilage. The head is generally naked,or thinly scattered with a few hairs and with a strong callus or horny crest. Some species however, are distinguished by crests of feathers.

The tarsi are smooth,and the feet have four toes three to the front which are united at the bases by a short membrane,and one in the rear articulated higher up on the tarsi than the front ones. The tail is short and drooping towards the ground,the external feathers on both sides being very short and gradually increasing in length to the fourth on each side.

As is the case with most domestic Galliformes there are several coloured varieties.

The common Guineafowl.

The common Guineafowl belongs to the genus Numida and has the specific name of meleagris. The body is greyish blue sprinkled with small white spots. The head and upper parts of the neck,naked,a conical tubercle,with its tip reflexed on the crown and a broad geminated membrane near the gape.

One variety has the breast white and another has the whole body whitish,with rounded white spots and other varieties also occur. Even hybrids have been produced between a male Guineafowl and a domestic hen. The young are quite handsome birds resembling Red partridges,somewhat at an early age. The adult male is much larger than the common cock and measures about twenty three inches in length. The male has a loose wattle of a bluish colour,but that of the female is red.

A little history and the habits of the Guineafowl.

These birds in the wild state associate in numerous flocks and seem to prefer a partiality to marshy and damp situations,where they subsists almost wholly on insects,worms and seeds. The female produces about nine eggs and probably more than one brood per season.

In the year 1508,vast numbers were transported to America by the Genoese. They are hardy enough in the northern climes,for birds of such hot regions,and were turned out in the parks and gardens of England and other countries. It caused the Poultry man a problem in so much as it was difficult to get the hens to incubate the eggs in a domestic situation or to rear any succeeding young.

They were also less likely to find their own food than the common poultry and in this respect added time and a little more expense for the Poultry man. Once or twice a day the Poultry man would have to supply a mixture of Buckwheat,Barley or Millet. When in the fields they would also eat Grasshoppers,worms,Beetles and Ants,and they would also eat tender buds and flowers.

The Guineafowl,as an inhabitant of the Poultry yard as an ornamental species rather than one which would yield a profit,was considered worth keeping.

Guineafowl eggs


The Wild Turkey and its domesticated cousin

Our next subject is the Wild Turkey,Meleagris gallopavo. There seems to have been confusion over this and the previous subject. In the early days of European colonisation of North America the native Wild Turkey was confused with the Guineafowl. The word Meleagris is Greek for the Guineafowl. This led to the English name of the American bird,since Turkey and Guinea were equally far off and exotic places. Meleagris is shared in both the scientific names of these two species..

The bird is so well known that a detailed description would be irrelevant to the reader,however, the general characteristics are worthy of noting.-The bill is short and thick. The head and upper part of the neck covered with a naked skin,beset with tubercles {wart-like projections}. The throat is furnished with a longitudinal pendulous and knobbly wattle,which is partially covered with hairs. There is also a conical fleshy projection,thinly scattered with hairs on the tip and it arises from the junction of the bill with the forehead.

When the bird is relaxed or at rest this appendage is short but when the bird is excited it enlarges till it covers the whole of the bill,hanging tow or three inches over the tip. The neck is of moderate dimensions both to as its length and thickness. On the lower portions of it there is attached an appendage of a fleshy texture,furnished at the end with a brush of hard black hairs,about an inch long.

Eastern Wild Turkey


Plumage of the Wild Turkey

The plumage consists of various metallic reflections which appear,depending on the angle of light,bronze,green.cooper,violet and purple. On the back the feathers are terminated by a band of velvet black,although there is a coppery lustre on the tail. The tail is composed of eighteen hard strong feathers of a rust colour,mottled with black,crossed by narrow lines of the same colour and ,with a broad,black bar nearly at the tips. The strong tail feathers are more than 15 inches long,in the full grown wild Turkey.The male when full grown is a little less than four feet in length and at least five in the extent of the wings.

So when the tail is spread out like a fan,as the bird is excited,he parades and struts and wheels about,,the tail,though it lacks the rich tints and light airy spread of that of the Peacock {see part 2 in this series},it is far from destitute in grandeur.

The legs and feet are very stout and rather long and the tarsi measure about six inches. They are covered by imbricated scales of a five sided shape,and have a strong,compressed,but rather blunt,pointed spur on the insides.

The female is considerably smaller and the head and neck are covered by irregular feathers of a dull grey colour. The feathers on the back have rusty tips.The tubercle over the bill is rudimental and the tuft on the lower part of the neck is usually lacking altogether.

Originally posted to Flickr-uploaded by Attis1979
Originally posted to Flickr-uploaded by Attis1979 | Source

Turkey with naked Neck Rooster.

Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by Dicklyon
Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by Dicklyon | Source

Wild Turkey Egg.

Originally posted to Flickr.
Originally posted to Flickr. | Source

A little history and habits of the Turkey

When America was first discovered the Wild Turkey was found in abundance almost throughout. Partington ,'Cyclopedia of Natural History' states " The absurd name of 'Turkey' is given to it only in England,and it originated in the time of Henry the eighth, when everything of foreign production which highly esteemed had the same epithet given to it. It even found its way into Latin dictionaries,as Gallus numedicus,as if it had come from the north of Africa. So prevalent was the error that the eminent naturalist Ray,and after him the Honourable Daines Barrington,described it as a native of Africa,and the tropical parts of Asia,whereas it is not found in either of those quarters of the world,neither is it a tropical bird"

In America through over hunting,and loss of habitat the population of this splendid bird was decimated,and it as taken the dedicated work and the skill of conservationists to save them from the brink. Numbers are now slowly recovering.

About the middle of April,when the weather is dry,the female selects a proper place in which to deposit her eggs and as far as possible conceal them from the eyes of predators,such as the Crow. The nest is placed on the ground either on a dry ridge,in the fallen top of a dead leafy tree,under a thicket of Sumach or in Briers,or by the side of a log,a very simple structure,being composed of a few dried leaves.

The eggs which number 10-14 are whitish,spotted with reddish brown like those of the domestic bird. The female approaches the nest with some caution,varying her course so as she rarely reaches it twice by the same route.On leaving the nest she is careful to cover the whole with dry leaves,with which she conceals it so artfully as to make it extremely difficult to find,even if one has watched her movements to indicate the exact spot,hence few nests are found,and those that are found are generally discovered by chance flushing the female from them.

When laying or sitting the Turkey hen is not easily driven from her post by the approach of apparent danger,when an enemy appears,she crouches as low as possible till the danger has passed.

Turkey's are still the main bird for the Christmas table and for Thanksgiving in the USA and Canada. Both frozen and fresh birds are readily available to the consumer,however, as with other foods fresh is often preferable despite costing more than their frozen counterparts. At the times mentioned above they are always much in demand.

Advertising Turkeys for Christmas. | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deb,

      Thank s, I bet those shots were fun to take. I have tried Guineafowl eggs and found them very good. A bit strong in taste for many though. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This was a delightful read. A friend sells me eggs, and occasionally, I'll get those from her guineas. There are also Wild Turkeys here in the country. Last year, for the Christmas Bird Count, I got a few good shots from a group of sixty.


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