03 December 2023

Helmeted Guineafowl – Wadi Jizan Dam Lake

Whilst birding Wadi Jizan Dam Lake very early morning 24 November Phil Roberts and I came across a group of up to fifteen Helmeted Guineafowl Numida Meleagris. The birds were originally heard calling and then seen crossing a dirt track into a group of thick acacia bushes. After following the birds, one bird sat on top of a rock and started calling before moving off allowing to take one in focus photograph, shown below. The species is a widespread breeding bird in sub-Saharan Africa (formerly also in northern Africa). Outside Africa, it is a rare breeding resident in the Asir Tihama in south-western Saudi Arabia and (possibly) in Yemen (Jennings 2010). The birds in Saudi Arabia appear to be small and dark blackish coloured and have a thick reddish bill with pale tip, small helmet, medium sized cere bristles, limited blue skin and completely blue roundish wattles. The helmet appears smaller than on any other subspecies. The taxonomy of Helmeted Guineafowl is complex, with nine subspecies clustered in four groups, and may actually involve more than one species (cf Fraker 2020). Despite the morphological differences noted above compared with African populations, the Arabian population has not formally been named as a subspecies but it is possible//probable the Arabian birds belong to a different, as yet undescribed subspecies. This is based on the ‘helmet’ of Arabian birds being smaller than that of a typical nominate meleagris. Genetic studies are needed to determine whether the Arabian population is a distinct undescribed subspecies or a (mixture of) any of the known subspecies from Africa. Depending on the outcome it may then be possible to ascertain if the birds were introduced to Saudi Arabia or not.