The Guinea: A Past and Present Look

Learn the history of guineas, how they are used and what the future looks like for this bird.

| May/June 1971

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    Guineas are highly sought after in many hunting areas since they provide a great source of food.
    Photo by Victor Croley

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When Grandma's chickens patrolled the farmyard they were usually accompanied by one or more guineas that acted as sentries and look-outs.

"Guineas warn when hawks are about," explained Grandma. "And a screaming guinea will frighten off almost any hawk or fox that tries to steal a chicken."

She might have added that a clutch of guineas, all screaming at once, would frighten off most two-legged trespassers also . . . for the raucous screeching of these otherwise modest and shy-appearing birds easily equals that of the Beatles in their prime.

The guinea is a native of Africa and several species are found in the west coast country of Guinea from which they get their name. In their native habitat these game birds are highly prized by hunters since a mature guinea will average three pounds in weight and provides excellent eating. Guineas are sometimes used to stock shooting preserves in England and it can be little more than an oversight that similar efforts have not been made in this country.

A great deal of patience as well as large sums of money have been spent in attempts to introduce exotic and oriental pheasants into the U.S. While these efforts have met sensational success in the plains areas of Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming, they have failed dismally in establishing the game birds in the brushy, second-growth woodlands that cover millions of acres in the Ozarks, Appalachians, and elsewhere. These sections where pheasants have failed to survive would seem to be ideally suited for the large-scale introduction of guineas. In fact, it is in this area and around a few of the larger cities that most of today's guineas are now found . . . either as a few birds on the small family farms or in larger numbers raised for a specialty market.

Raising Guineas

Guineas have been domesticated for many centuries, and were raised as table birds by the ancient Greeks and Romans. They were brought to this country by the early colonists but wild turkeys, pigeons and other game birds were so plentiful that guineas were kept largely as a curiosity and for for their watch-dog value. They could not compete with chickens in egg production or as a convenience food, however, for guineas demand a measure of independence and refuse to accept the poultry yard confinement of chickens. They prefer to roam over a large territory, rustle their food from lodge grain, weed seeds, grasshoppers and other insect and shun the barnyard and chicken-run.

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