White-breasted guineafowl (Agelastes meleagrides)

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White-breasted guineafowl
IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable VULNERABLE

Top facts

  • The white-breasted guineafowl is a distinctive bird with a black body, bald red head, and white breast and neck.
  • The white-breasted guineafowl walks around on the forest floor in search of food, but spends the night roosting in small trees.
  • The white-breasted guineafowl lives in groups of around 15 to 20 individuals.
  • Groups of white-breasted guineafowl make constant twittering calls as they move about, and also scuff the leaf litter quite noisily while foraging.
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White-breasted guineafowl fact file

White-breasted guineafowl description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderGalliformes
FamilyNumididae
GenusAgelastes (1)

A striking, medium-sized terrestrial bird, the white-breasted guineafowl (Agelastes meleagrides) is the rarest guineafowl species in West Africa. It has a very characteristic appearance, with a completely bald red head and upper neck, a white breast and collar, and a black body (2) (3) (4) marked with very fine white lines (2) (3).

The white-breasted guineafowl has a fairly long tail. Its long legs are greyish-brown or greyish-black, and its beak is greenish-brown (3). The male and female white-breasted guineafowl are similar in appearance, but the male is slightly larger (2) (3) and has one or two spurs on its legs (3).

The juvenile white-breasted guineafowl is darker than the adult, with black patches which spread up its neck and onto its breast. Its head is also dark (3) (5). Juveniles of this species have no white on the breast or collar, but do have a white belly (3). The black patches on the neck reduce with age, but some adults still have small black marks on the side of the head (5).

The white-breasted guineafowl is not a quiet, inconspicuous bird, instead making a variety of noises as it moves about the forest. The most frequently heard noise is an almost constant, rapid twitter used as a contact call within the group, and the birds also scuff the leaf litter when foraging for food. These sounds can be heard up to 30 metres away (5). As the white-breasted guineafowl flies to roost at night it makes a harsh, grating, guttural call (5), and it has also been reported to produce a loud, ringing, melodious note (2) (3).

French
Pintade à poitrine blanche.
Spanish
Pintado de Pecho Blanco, Pintado Pechiblanca.
Size
Length: 40 - 45 cm (2) (3)
Weight
c. 815 g (3)
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White-breasted guineafowl biology

Very little is currently known about the white-breasted guineafowl’s breeding behaviour, and intriguingly this species’ nest has never been described by scientists (5) (8). It is thought likely that the white-breasted guineafowl nests on the ground in patches of dense undergrowth (3) (5), although a local guide has reported seeing it nest in trees (5). Around 12 reddish-buff eggs are probably laid in each clutch (3), and young birds have been seen between November and May (5) (6), although breeding in this species may potentially take place year-round (2) (3). After hatching, the young guineafowl follow the adults closely (5).

The white-breasted guineafowl usually lives in groups of about 15 to 20 individuals, which walk around together on the rainforest floor in search of food (2) (3). If disturbed, the group members typically bunch together, calling loudly, and if the threat continues they will scatter into the forest (6).

Aggression between birds in a group sometimes occurs, especially in larger groups, and involves the birds chasing each other while giving many excited twitters, cheeps and trills. These outbursts usually end up with the birds flying into the trees. Meetings between different white-breasted guineafowl groups often result in fierce fights. The birds may fly into the air and attack each other feet-first, and these fights have been known to last for up to half an hour (5).

By day, the white-breasted guineafowl forages in the leaf litter on the dry forest floor, and at night it roosts in thin understorey trees (3) (5). The diet of the white-breasted guineafowl consists mainly of small invertebrates, which are swallowed very swiftly. It is likely to eat species such as termites, ants, crickets, millipedes and beetle larvae (3) (5) (6), although it may also potentially feed on berries and fallen seeds (2) (3). The white-breasted guineafowl spends a large portion of its day walking slowly while foraging on the forest floor and scratching at the leaf litter in search of prey (3) (5). Excited twitters and whistles are produced when one bird finds an abundance of food (5), and the group may converge on and squabble over the food source (3).

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White-breasted guineafowl range

The white-breasted guineafowl is found in West Africa, particularly in the Upper Guinea Forest that crosses Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone (2) (3) (6) (7). Large populations of this species are found in the Gola Forest in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and in the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire (5).

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White-breasted guineafowl habitat

The white-breasted guineafowl inhabits the primary forest of the Upper Guinea rainforest (6). This bird appears to prefer drier forest with a closed canopy and relatively sparse undergrowth (2) (3) (5). It rarely visits valley bottoms as they are too wet, but when it needs to it will cross them quickly (5).

Although the white-breasted guineafowl generally occurs in primary forest, it has also sometimes been found in secondary forest (2) (6) and even in cocoa plantations (2). However, it is not thought to thrive in disturbed habitats (6).

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White-breasted guineafowl status

The white-breasted guineafowl is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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White-breasted guineafowl threats

The population of the white-breasted guineafowl has undergone a drastic decline, due mainly to the large-scale deforestation, rainforest fragmentation and encroachment of agriculture within its range (2) (3) (6). Illegal logging of its habitat has been made worse by conflicts in the region, although a return to peace in some areas may potentially result in increased forest clearance for agriculture (2).

The white-breasted guineafowl is also very sensitive to hunting, and is heavily persecuted in some parts of its range (2) (3) (6). Poaching of this species is a problem even in some protected areas, such as in the south-eastern part of Taï National Park (2). Its tendency to form tight flocks makes the white-breasted guineafowl an easy target, as a number of birds can be killed at once. Groups can also be attracted by imitations of the species’ calls or by stirring of the leaf litter (2) (6).

It is possible that the size of the white-breasted guineafowl population may have been underestimated as this species is quite shy and difficult to observe in the wild. However, the combination of habitat loss and hunting means that this bird has a high chance of disappearing from all but a few protected areas (2).

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White-breasted guineafowl conservation

There is currently very little legal protection or direct conservation action for the white-breasted guineafowl. Its survival depends on the protection of areas where healthy populations of this species are still found, particularly the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone and Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire. The rainforest needs to be protected from logging and poaching if the white-breasted guineafowl is to survive (2) (5) (6).

Recommendations for the conservation of the white-breasted guineafowl are to enforce anti-poaching laws within the forests (2) (5) (8) and to educate local people about the detrimental effects of hunting this species (2) (9). It will also be important to involve local people in the conservation of this species and its habitat, and in management and tourism activities in and around protected areas (2).

More research needs to be carried out on the white-breasted guineafowl, including surveys of its population and investigations into its biology and behaviour (5) (7) (9). Most importantly, the size of the population in Ghana needs to be recorded and the key sites for this species in Liberia should be identified and protected (2) (9).

In 2009, the presidents of Sierra Leone and Liberia announced a new ‘Peace Park’ connecting the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone with the proposed Gola National Forest Reserve in Liberia. This will be extremely beneficial for the white-breasted guineafowl, meaning that protection of this species and its habitat will be less fragmented and the conservation efforts in the area will be greatly improved (10).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

Find out more about the white-breasted guineafowl and its conservation:

Find out more about bird conservation in Africa:

More information on the conservation of the white-breasted guineafowl’s habitat:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
Larvae
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Primary forest
Forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
Secondary forest
Forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. BirdLife International - White-breasted guineafowl (November, 2011)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=306
  3. Madge, S. and McGowan, P. (2010) Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse: Including Buttonquails, Sandgrouse and Allies. Christopher Helm Publishers, London.
  4. Thomson, A.L. (1964) A New Dictionary of Birds. Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, London.
  5. Francis, I.S., Penfold, N., Gartshore, M.E. and Jaramillo, A. (1992) The white-breasted guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides in Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire. Bird Conservation International, 2: 25-60.
  6. Allport, G. (1991) The status and conservation of threatened birds in the Upper Guinea forest. Bird Conservation International, 1: 53-74.
  7. McGowan, P.J.K., Dowell, S.D., Carroll, J.P., Aebischer, N.J. and the WPA/BirdLife/SSC Partridge, Quail and Francolin Specialist Group (1995) Partridges, Quails, Francolins, Snowcocks and Guineafowl: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan 1995-1999. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  8. Waltert, M., Seifert, C., Radl, G. and Hoppe-Dominik, B. (2010) Population size and habitat of the white-breasted guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides in the Taï region, Côte d’Ivoire. Bird Conservation International, 20: 74-83.
  9. Fuller, R.A., Carroll, J.P. and McGowan, P.J.K. (Eds.) (2000) Partridges, Quails, Francolins, Snowcocks, Guineafowl, and Turkeys. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan 2000-2004. WPA/BirdLife/SSC Partridge, Quail, and Francolin Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK, and the World Pheasant Association, Reading, UK. Available at:
    http://www.galliformes-sg.org/pqf/acrobat/2000-076.pdf
  10. BirdLife International (2013) BirdLife Partners are helping Sierra Leone and Liberia create a transboundary reserve. State of the World’s Birds website, BirdLife International. Available at:
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/sowb/casestudy/416
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White-breasted guineafowl  
White-breasted guineafowl

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