A hoopoe uses its long beak to prod in the dirt for insects. Photos taken by Elsa in Doha, Qatar.
The Hoopoe (Upupa epops) is a colorful bird that is found across Afro-Eurasia — in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar — notable for its distinctive ‘crown’ of feathers. Like the Latin name upupa, the English name is an onomatopoetic form which imitates the cry of the hoopoe (pronounced “hu-pu”).
The Hoopoe is a medium sized bird, 9.8–12.6 in long, with 17.3–19 in wingspan weighing 1.6–3.1 oz. The strengthened musculature of the head allows the bill to be opened when probing inside the soil. The hoopoe has broad and rounded wings capable of strong flight. The bird has a characteristic undulating flight, which is like that of a giant butterfly, caused by the wings half closing at the end of each beat or short sequence of beats.
The Hoopoe has two basic requirements in its habitat; bare or lightly vegetated ground on which to forage, and vertical surfaces with cavities (such as trees, cliffs or even walls, nestboxes, haystacks, and abandoned burrows) in which to nest. These requirements can be provided in a wide range of ecosystems and as a consequence they inhabit a wide range of habitats from heathland, wooded steppes, savannas and grasslands, as well as glades inside forests. Hoopoes have been seen at high altitudes during migration across the Himalayas and were recorded at about 21,000 ft by the first Mount Everest Expedition.
The diet of the Hoopoe is mostly composed of insects, although small reptiles and frogs as well as some plant matter such as seeds and berries are sometimes taken as well. It is a solitary forager which typically feeds on the ground.
The Hoopoe is monogamous, although the pair bond apparently only lasts for a single season. Chases and fights between rival males (and sometimes females) are common and can be brutal. Birds will try to stab rivals with their bills, and individuals are occasionally blinded in fights. The nest is in a hole in a tree or wall, with a narrow entrance. The female alone is responsible for incubating the eggs.
The Hoopoes have well-developed anti-predator defenses in the nest. The uropygial gland of the incubating and brooding female is quickly modified to produce a foul-smelling liquid, like rotting meat, and the glands of nestlings do so as well. These secretions are rubbed into the plumage. The secretion is thought to help deter predators and parasites, and possibly act as an antibacterial agent. The secretions stop soon before the young leave the nest. In addition to this secretion nestlings are able to direct streams of feces at nest intruders from the age of six days, and will also hiss at intruders in a snake like fashion. The young also strike with their bill or with one wing.
Hoopoes were considered sacred in Ancient Egypt and Minoan Crete. In May 2008, through a popular vote, the hoopoe was chosen as the national bird of Israel.