Hoopoes /ˈhuːpuː/ are colourful birds found across Afro-Eurasia,
notable for their distinctive "crown" of feathers. Three living and
one extinct species are recognized, though for many years all were
lumped as a single species—Upupa epops.
1 Taxonomy and systematics
2 Distribution and habitat
3 Behaviour and ecology
3.1 Diet and feeding
4 Relationship with humans
6 External links
Taxonomy and systematics
Upupa and epops are respectively the
Ancient Greek names for
the hoopoe; both, like the English name, are onomatopoeic forms which
imitate the cry of the bird.
The hoopoe was classified in the clade Coraciiformes, which also
includes kingfishers, bee-eaters, and rollers. A close relationship
between the hoopoe and the wood hoopoes is also supported by the
shared and unique nature of their stapes. In the Sibley-Ahlquist
taxonomy, the hoopoe is separated from the
Coraciiformes as a separate
order, the Upupiformes. Some authorities place the wood hoopoes in the
Upupiformes as well. Now the consensus is that both hoopoe and the
wood hoopoes belong with the hornbills in the Bucerotiformes.
The fossil record of the hoopoes is very incomplete, with the earliest
fossil coming from the Quaternary. The fossil record of their
relatives is older, with fossil wood hoopoes dating back to the
Miocene and those of an extinct related family, the Messelirrisoridae,
dating from the Eocene.
Formerly considered a single species, the hoopoe has been split into
three separate species: the Eurasian hoopoe,
Madagascan hoopoe and the
resident African hoopoe. One accepted separate species, the Saint
Helena hoopoe, lived on the island of
St Helena but became extinct in
the 16th century, presumably due to introduced species.
The genus Upupa was created by Linnaeus in his
Systema naturae in
1758. It then included three other species with long curved bills:
U. eremita (now Geronticus eremita), the northern bald ibis
U. pyrrhocorax (now Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), the red-billed chough
Formerly, the greater hoopoe-lark was also considered to also be a
member of this genus (as Upupa alaudipes).
Distribution and habitat
Hoopoe nesting at Ganden Monastery, Tibet
Combined distribution of all species of Upupa: Light green Upupa
africana (African Hoopoe) Orange, blue, dark green Upupa epops
(Eurasian Hoopoe) Brown
Upupa marginata (Madagascar Hoopoe)
Hoopoe with insect
Hoopoes are widespread in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, Sub-Saharan
Africa and Madagascar. Most European and north Asian birds migrate
to the tropics in winter. In contrast, the African populations are
sedentary all year. The species has been a vagrant in Alaska; U.
e. saturata was recorded there in 1975 in the Yukon Delta. Hoopoes
have been known to breed north of their European range, and in
southern England during warm, dry summers that provide plenty of
grasshoppers and similar insects, although as of the early 1980s
northern European populations were reported to be in the decline,
possibly due to changes in climate.
The hoopoe has two basic requirements of 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 the
hoopoe inhabits a wide range of habitats such as heathland, wooded
steppes, savannas and grasslands, as well as forest glades. The
Madagascar subspecies also makes use of more dense primary forest. The
modification of natural habitats by humans for various agricultural
purposes has led to hoopoes becoming common in olive groves, orchards,
vineyards, parkland and farmland, although they are less common and
are declining in intensively farmed areas. Hunting is of concern
in southern Europe and Asia.
Hoopoes make seasonal movements in response to rain in some regions
such as in Ceylon and in the Western Ghats. Birds have been seen
at high altitudes during migration across the Himalayas. One was
recorded at about 6,400 m (21,000 ft) by the first Mount
Behaviour and ecology
In what was long thought to be a defensive posture, hoopoes sunbathe
by spreading out their wings and tail low against the ground and
tilting their head up; they often fold their wings and preen halfway
through. They also enjoy taking dust and sand baths. Adults
may begin their moult after the breeding season and continue after
they have migrated for the winter.
Diet and feeding
Young and mature hoopoe in Dubai park
The diet of the hoopoe is mostly composed of insects, although small
reptiles, frogs and plant matter such as seeds and berries are
sometimes taken as well. It is a solitary forager which typically
feeds on the ground. More rarely they will feed in the air, where
their strong and rounded wings make them fast and manoeuvrable, in
pursuit of numerous swarming insects. More commonly their foraging
style is to stride over relatively open ground and periodically pause
to probe the ground with the full length of their bill. Insect larvae,
pupae and mole crickets are detected by the bill and either extracted
or dug out with the strong feet. Hoopoes will also feed on insects on
the surface, probe into piles of leaves, and even use the bill to
lever large stones and flake off bark. Common diet items include
crickets, locusts, beetles, earwigs, cicadas, ant lions, bugs and
ants. These can range from 10 to 150 mm in length, with a
preferred prey size of around 20–30 mm. Larger prey items are
beaten against the ground or a preferred stone to kill them and remove
indigestible body parts such as wings and legs.
Hoopoe eggs (Muséum de Toulouse)
Hoopoe on Bamboo by Zhao Mengfu, c. 1254–1322 (Shanghai Museum)
Hoopoe in Israel. The hoopoe is Israel's national bird.
Hoopoe at Rajaji National Park, Uttarakhand, India
Hoopoes are monogamous, although the pair bond apparently only lasts
for a single season, and territorial. The male calls frequently to
advertise his ownership of the territory. 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. It may be unlined, or various
scraps may be collected. The female alone is responsible for
incubating the eggs. Clutch size varies with location: Northern
Hemisphere birds lay more eggs than those in the Southern Hemisphere,
and birds at higher latitudes have larger clutches than those closer
to the equator. 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, but
quickly discolour in the increasingly dirty nest. They weigh
4.5 grams. A replacement clutch is possible.
Hoopoes have well-developed anti-predator defences 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 are rubbed into the plumage.
The secretion, which smells like rotting meat, is thought to help
deter predators, as well as deter parasites and possibly 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
The incubation period for the species is between 15 and 18 days,
during which time the male feeds the female. Incubation begins as soon
as the first egg is laid, so the chicks are born asynchronously. The
chicks hatch with a covering of downy feathers. By around day three to
five, feather quills emerge which will become the adult feathers. The
chicks are brooded by the female for between 9 and 14 days. The
female later joins the male in the task of bringing food. The
young fledge in 26 to 29 days and remain with the parents for about a
Relationship with humans
The hoopoe was recorded as residing in Britain in the 18th Century
Art from Naumann's Natural history of the birds of central Europe, 3rd
Ed. of 1905
The diet of the hoopoe includes many species considered by humans to
be pests, such as the pupae of the processionary moth, a damaging
forest pest. For this reason the species is afforded protection
under the law in many countries.
Hoopoes are distinctive birds and have made a cultural impact over
much of their range. They were considered sacred in Ancient Egypt, and
were "depicted on the walls of tombs and temples". At the Old Kingdom,
the hoopoe was used in the iconography as a symbolic code to indicate
the child was the heir and successor of his father. They achieved
a similar standing in Minoan Crete.
In the Torah,
Leviticus 11:13–19, hoopoes were listed among the
animals that are detestable and should not be eaten. They are also
Deuteronomy as not kosher.
Hoopoes also appear in the
Quran and is known as the "hudhud", in
Surah Al-Naml 27:20–22: "And he Solomon sought among the birds and
said: How is it that I see not the hoopoe, or is he among the absent?
(20) I verily will punish him with hard punishment or I verily will
slay him, or he verily shall bring me a plain excuse. (21) But he [the
hoopoe] was not long in coming, and he said: I have found out (a
thing) that thou apprehendest not, and I come unto thee from Sheba
with sure tidings." The sacredness of the
Hoopoe and connection with
Solomon and the
Queen of Sheba
Queen of Sheba is mentioned in passing in Rudyard
Kipling's "The Butterfly that Stamped." Islamic literature also states
that a hoopoe saved
Moses and the children of Israel from being
crushed by the giant Og after crossing the Red Sea.
Hoopoes were seen as a symbol of virtue in Persia. A hoopoe was a
leader of the birds in the Persian book of poems The Conference of the
Birds ("Mantiq al-Tayr" by Attar) and when the birds seek a king, the
hoopoe points out that the
Simurgh was the king of the birds.
Hoopoes were thought of as thieves across much of Europe, and
harbingers of war in Scandinavia. In Estonian tradition, hoopoes
are strongly connected with death and the underworld; their song is
believed to foreshadow death for many people or cattle. In
medieval ritual magic, the hoopoe was thought to be an evil bird. A
collection of magical spells compiled in Germany frequently
requires the sacrifice of a hoopoe to summon demons and perform other
The hoopoe is the king of the birds in the
Ancient Greek comedy The
Birds by Aristophanes. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, book 6, King
Thrace rapes Philomela, his wife Procne's sister, and cuts out her
tongue. In revenge,
Procne kills their son Itys and serves him as a
stew to his father. When
Tereus sees the boy's head, which is served
on a platter, he grabs a sword but just as he attempts to kill the
sisters, they are turned into birds—
Procne into a swallow and
Philomela into a nightingale.
Tereus himself is turned into an epops
(6.674), translated as lapwing by Dryden and lappewincke
John Gower in his Confessio Amantis, or hoopoe in
A.S. Kline's translation. The bird's crest indicates his royal
status, and his long, sharp beak is a symbol of his violent nature.
English translators and poets probably had the northern lapwing in
mind, considering its crest.
The hoopoe was chosen as the national bird of Israel in May 2008 in
conjunction with the country's 60th anniversary, following a national
survey of 155,000 citizens, outpolling the white-spectacled
bulbul. The hoopoe appears on the Logo of the University of
Johannesburg and is the official mascot of the University's sports.
The municipalities of
Armstedt and Brechten, Germany, have a hoopoe in
its coat of arms.
In Morocco, hoopoes are traded live and as medicinal products in the
markets, primarily in herbalist shops. This trade is unregulated and a
potential threat to local populations 
Three CGI enhanced hoopoes, together with other birds collectively
named "the tittifers", are often shown whistling a song in the BBC
children's television series In the Night Garden....
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Hoopoe Art about 1900
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Upupa epops.
Hoopoe- Species text in The Atlas of Southern African Birds.
Ageing and sexing (PDF; 5.3 MB) by Javier Blasco-Zumeta &
Hoopoe videos, photos & sounds on the Internet
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Fauna Europaea: 96665