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What is a Hoopoe?

By Deborah Walker
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The hoopoe is a medium-sized bird in the Upupidae family. It is native to North Africa, Europe, and Asia and has become inextricably linked to the mythos in these areas. This bird has a long, thin beak and distinctive erect plumage on its crest. Hoopoes are foragers with insects making up the bulk of their diet. Male and female birds mate monogamously for one season and produce a brood of chicks in about three weeks.

This bird is the only living species in its family. Another species, the giant hoopoe of Saint Helena island off the coast of west Africa, became extinct in the 1700s. There are nine subspecies of hoopoe with variations in size, color, length of bills, and wings.

In ancient Egypt and Minoan Crete, the hoopoe was considered sacred; pictures of these birds adorned the walls of temples, tombs, and other holy places. To the Persians, the hoopoe was a symbol of virtue. In contrast was the Israelite belief that the birds were unclean and not to be eaten. Scandinavians thought of the birds as a sign of imminent war. The Estonians believed that the bird's song was a harbinger of death for people or cattle.

This species has a very distinct look. The head is golden and a crest of erect feathers begins at the forehead and ends at the back. The feathers are erect, black tipped, with a yellowish horizontal stripe. The back is gray, black and white. The birds are 9-12 inches (25-32 centimeters) long and have a wingspan of 17-19 inches (44 centimeters). Males and females weigh 1.5-3 ounces (46-89 grams).

These birds are very adaptable and can live in many different habitats. They may be found in savannas, steppes, or woodlands that have sparse ground vegetation. In some areas, the hoopoe live in olive groves, parks, or orchards. They spend much of their time on the ground foraging for insects, worms, grubs, or beetles. Sometimes seeds, berries, and small frogs are part of the hoopoe diet.

This bird species is monogamous for one breeding season. They nest in the cavities of cliffs, trees, haystacks, or other vertical surfaces with narrow entrances. Hoopoes may or may not line their nests. The female incubates seven or eight round, blueish eggs for 15-17 days. While she is tending the eggs, the male hoopoe brings food.

The female is very protective of her clutch. After laying the eggs, she produces a liquid that smells like rotten meat. This foul-smelling liquid is rubbed into her feathers. Once the chicks are born, they can produce a similar secretion. In addition, the chicks can shoot liquified feces at invaders and have been known to hiss or hit with their wings.

The chicks are born with downy feathers. These feathers are quickly replaced by quills and adult feathers. Hoopoes take their first flights when they are about 24 days old. They leave the nest shortly thereafter to begin life on their own

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