A truly stunning specimen is our feature #BeakoftheWeek species today. I’d love to see one in the wild, but for now I’ll make do with museum specimens. Introducing the vulturine (its vulture-like bald head and neck lend it this name) or royal guineafowl.
Along with the nicobar pigeon, these guys have some of my favourite plumage. Pure showmanship at its best. You can see a close up of them here to get a greater idea of how stunning they are. As luck would have it we have a bird plumage fan and expert all rolled into one in our Postdoc Thanh-Lan and here’s a great paper of hers about the function of barred plumage in birds. This article from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology just a nice job of briefly summarising the function of feathers and plumage.
First described in 1854 by Hardwicke, the vulturine guinefowl is the largest species of extant guineafowl, measuring 60-72cm and weighing 1-1.5kg. Females don’t differ significantly in appearance from males although they are slightly smaller. They are endemic to eastern Africa and are generally found in dry open habitats especially Acacia and Commiphora scrub. They mostly forage on the floor in groups of about 20-30 birds (sometimes hundreds briefly together), scratching with their feet.
Vulturine guineafowl feed on a variety of food including seeds, leaves, berries and fruit, roots and a variety of invertebrates. They prefer to forage near cover. If threatened they are much more likely to walk or run away than they are to fly, and if they are pressed hard enough they will only fly for 50-100m to escape danger. Fortunately they are good runners. Listed as of “least concern” on the IUCN redlist, it is predicted that there could be over 1,000,000 individuals in the wild.
Thought to breed during or shortly after the rainy season, this species is monogamous, laying 4-8 eggs in a simple scrape in the ground. The eggs are incubated for between 23-32 days by the female and the precocial chicks leave the nest almost immediately after hatching. Both parents tend to the chicks and they are able to fly after 2 weeks.
We haven’t featured a video of a chick hatching as of yet, and it is pretty fascinating to watch something hatch into the world so as a treat we have some links for you. Here’s a nice one of a chicken hatching (another precocial bird) and even better a link to a video of a Killdeer hatching too.
Xeno Canto only has the one song from this species, but at least it has that, have a listen for yourself.
BirdLife International 2012. Acryllium vulturinum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 02 July 2015.
Martínez, I., Kirwan, G.M. & Bonan, A. (2013). Vulturine Guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved fromhttp://www.hbw.com/node/53529 on 6 July 2015).
Turner, D. A. “Short communications: Comments concerning the type locality of the Vulturine Guineafowl Acrylliun vulturinum.” Scopus 31 (2014): 40-41.