Hoopoe (Upupa Epops)
Pics by Ashutosh Dudhatra, in Rajkot, Gujarat, India
The hoopoe (Upupa epops) is a colorful medium-sized bird that is widespread in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. These birds have been seen at high altitudes during migration across the Himalayas. One was recorded at about 21,000 ft by the first Mount Everest expedition.
Like its Latin name upupa, the English name “hoopoe” is an onomatopoeic form which imitates the cry of the bird. Notable for its distinctive “crown” of feathers, the hoopoe is 9.8–12.6 in long, with a 17–19 in wingspan, and weighs 1.6–3.1 oz.
The hoopoe 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.
Hoopoes are 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, and has a narrow entrance.The female alone is responsible for incubating the eggs. In central and northern Europe and Asia the clutch size is around 12, whereas it is around four in the tropics and seven in the subtropics. The eggs are round and milky blue when laid.
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, and the glands of nestlings do so as well. These secretions, rubbed into the plumage, smell like rotting meat, and help deter predators and parasites and possibly even act as an antibacterial agent. The secretions stop soon before the young leave the nest.
- From the age of six days, nestlings can also direct streams of faeces at intruders, and will hiss at them in a snake-like fashion.The young also strike with their bill or with one wing.
The hoopoe is a solitary forager who typically feeds on the ground. They stride over relatively open ground and periodically pause to probe the ground with the full length of their long powerful bill. The diet of the hoopoe is mostly composed of insects, many of which are considered by humans to be pests. For this reason the species is afforded protection under the law in many countries.