Guinea–Chicken Hybrid: Can Chickens and Guineas Breed?
Does Keeping Guinea Fowl with Chickens Result in a Guinea–Chicken Cross?
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Occasionally in nature, a male and female from two different species will mate and produce offspring, termed as hybrids. In the case of poultry, crosses between different species in the same family are possible, especially between mallards and other ducks. Sometimes even pheasants or peacocks have been seen to mate with chickens and produce a pheasant–chicken hybrid or a peacock–chicken hybrid respectively. A rarer example is a rooster mating a guinea hen—giving rise to a guinea–chicken cross (termed guin-hen or numigall)—as these species are more distantly related, classified in different poultry families.
Birds normally prefer to mate with their own species, but there are exceptions: a rooster in close confinement with a guinea hen; a lone rooster in a herd of guineas; a young, inexperienced and ardent male, especially if he were brooded by a hen and grew up with chickens. Hybrids that do not occur naturally, such as a turkey male with a domestic hen, have also been produced through artificial insemination for scientific research.
Why Breed a Guinea Fowl–Chicken Hybrid?
In the early twentieth century, scientists examined such crosses as a means to understand evolutionary trends and to improve classification of species. Gene differences and their resultant proteins have also been studied to further biological understanding. The possibility of importing wild genes into domestic species has also been examined. On a commercial basis, some hybrids have produced economic benefit: pheasant crossed with chicken was desirable in Germany in 1770, while wild geese crossed with domestic ones enjoyed market success in 1861. To this day, Muscovy crossed with Mallard duck provides a profitable market bird. However, the guinea–chicken cross was never found to be profitable, due to the scarcity of the phenomenon.
Why Nature Does Not Favor the Guinea–Chicken Cross
Very few rooster-fertilized guinea fowl eggs form embryos, and of those that do, most die before pipping or very soon after hatching, especially females. Of those examined, guinea–chicken hybrids that have lived longer than this were male. Gender was not apparent from looks or behavior in any of the documented cases. The hybrids did not show any sexual characteristics or interest in mating. Genitals remained undeveloped, so the relevant hormones would not have been produced.
Hybrids that survive to maturity are normally infertile. Different species are genetically incompatible as their gene pools have diverged through adaption to distinct ways of life. If the cross is not lethal, meaning the animal dies young, then it will still not be able to reproduce, except in a few cases where the species are closely related, as seen in some ducks. Unfortunately for the poor guinea–chicken hybrids, gene differences generally result in short lives, during which they suffer from health issues, such as arthritis, heart problems, and weakness. On saying that, I have seen anecdotal reports of guinea–chicken hybrids that lived for over 2 years, although not without health problems. An exceptional example was the offspring of a guinea cock with a bantam hen, Egbert, who lived for ten years.
What Are Guinea–Chicken Hybrids like?
All documented cases have a fairly even mixture of guinea fowl and chicken traits, both in behavior and appearance. They did not inherit a comb, wattle, or helmet. Most grew quickly and were larger than or sized intermediately between parents, but others were small and weak from the start. Most of them preferred to stick with their clutch mates, although some preferred guinea fowl company and were aggressive towards chickens. Their voices were often like baby chicken noises, although some developed guinea-like screams, but not the female’s “buck-wheat” call. Normally calm in temperament, some were bolder than guinea fowl.
Miracle, the Much-Loved Guinea–Chicken Cross
The most detailed and emotive account I have come across is that of Miracle, an endearing guinea–chicken cross who lived until almost eight months old. Brenda Warren, living in Aberdeen, Mississippi, starting keeping guinea fowl and chickens in 2009. By November, she hatched her first three guinea fowl eggs, which had been abandoned by their guinea hen mom. One was obviously very different, growing quicker and developing faster than his two guinea keet siblings. An Easter Egger, named Warlock, was the subordinate rooster in the flock and was never allowed to mate with hens by the dominant male, Boss. In the following weeks, as Miracle grew a beard and cheek tufts, it became apparent that he had inherited traits from Warlock. However, his feathers were never truly chicken nor guinea fowl. He had a unique barred plumage with touches of red. He had a long neck and tail and an upright stance. His voice remained a soft, chick-like cheeping, even when his clutch-mates had matured and developed their typical calls.
Right from the start, he was much bolder and friendlier than his siblings. He flew up onto Brenda’s shoulder, while the keets cowered. As they grew, they kept together in a tight-knit group, although they enjoyed foraging along with the older birds as they grew up. When feeding, Miracle grabbed treats from the hand, like the chickens, rather than the more reserved behavior of his guinea fowl companions.
Miracle’s half-sister joined the female flock when she matured. Then his half-brother and remaining companion, Rascal, was tragically run over, leaving him rather alone, unable to keep up with the rest of the flock. By thirteen weeks old, his weakness had already shown, as he was easily tired by normal activity. Then in summer, he showed signs of overheating at only 70 degrees. His final weeks were spent accompanying Brenda or a broody hen and her chicks. Although lacking in endurance, he was endowed with guinea–chicken intelligence. During an attack by chicken predators, he survived wild dogs and a coyote by hiding up in the rafters of a barn. But shortly after Rascal’s death, Miracle fell off his perch and peacefully passed away. His story attracted many followers on a popular poultry forum, and his demise brought tears to the eyes of many readers.
The story of Miracle emphasizes how this rare cross does not produce a viable bird. The differences between the two species are too great to produce a functioning individual with good health. Motivated by curiosity or a desire for novelty, some breeders have attempted to force matings of different species by confining them in small cages. This would put an unreasonable amount of stress on the individuals involved and compromise their welfare. The resulting eggs have a low probability of fertility, and those that hatch are unlikely to live long. In the case of those that survive, they are likely to suffer from health issues, due to the incompatibility of their genes, and may not find a social niche in the flock. This is why, in nature, such hybrids are so uncommon.
Hanebrink, E. L. 1976. Characteristics and Behavior of Guineafowl and Domesticated Chicken Hybrids. Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science 30(17).
Guyer, M.F., 1909. On the sex of hybrid birds. The Biological Bulletin, 16(4), 193-198.
Hybrid & Mutant Animals
Pal, S.K. 1995. Polymorphic protein expression (proﬁle) in numigall. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, 33, 58-60.
Vogelaar, E. and van Grouw, H. 2008. Hybrids. Aviculture-Europe.
Miracle’s story on Backyard Chickens.
Originally published in the October/November 2019 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.