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.

Common Hoopoe (Upupa epops) Photograph by Shantanu Kuveskar
Eurasian hoopoe
Mangaon, Maharashtra, India
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Bucerotiformes
Family: Upupidae
Leach, 1820
Genus: Upupa
Linnaeus, 1758

Taxonomy and systematics

Upupa and epops are respectively the Latin and Ancient Greek names for the hoopoe; both, like the English name, are onomatopoeic forms which imitate the cry of the bird.[1][2]

The hoopoe was classified in the clade Coraciiformes, which also includes kingfishers, bee-eaters, and rollers.[3] A close relationship between the hoopoe and the wood hoopoes is also supported by the shared and unique nature of their stapes.[4] 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.[5] Now the consensus is that both hoopoe and the wood hoopoes belong with the hornbills in the Bucerotiformes.[6]

The fossil record of the hoopoes is very incomplete, with the earliest fossil coming from the Quaternary.[7] 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.[5]


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.[7]

The genus Upupa was created by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758. It then included three other species with long curved bills:[8]

Formerly, the greater hoopoe-lark was also considered to also be a member of this genus (as Upupa alaudipes).[9]

Extant species

Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
African Hoopoe (Upupa africana) (16277761817) Upupa africana African hoopoe South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia and the southern half of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Hoopoe with insect Upupa epops Eurasian hoopoe Europe, Asia, and North Africa and northern Sub-Saharan Africa
Madagascar Hoopoe - Ankarafantsika - Madagascar S4E9386 (15110965529) Upupa marginata Madagascan hoopoe Madagascar

Distribution and habitat

Hoopoe nesting at Ganden Monastery, Tibet
Upupa distribution
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
Hoopoe with insect

Hoopoes are widespread in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar.[10] Most European and north Asian birds migrate to the tropics in winter.[11] In contrast, the African populations are sedentary all year. The species has been a vagrant in Alaska;[12] U. e. saturata was recorded there in 1975 in the Yukon Delta.[13] Hoopoes have been known to breed north of their European range,[14] and in southern England during warm, dry summers that provide plenty of grasshoppers and similar insects,[15] although as of the early 1980s northern European populations were reported to be in the decline, possibly due to changes in climate.[14]

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[14]) 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.[10] Hunting is of concern in southern Europe and Asia.[13]

Hoopoes make seasonal movements in response to rain in some regions such as in Ceylon and in the Western Ghats.[16] 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 Everest expedition.[17]

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.[18] They also enjoy taking dust and sand baths.[19] Adults may begin their moult after the breeding season and continue after they have migrated for the winter.[20]

Diet and feeding

Young and mature hoopoe
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 manoeuverable, 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 millimetres (0.39 to 5.91 in) in length, with a preferred prey size of around 20–30 millimetres (0.79–1.18 in). 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.[10]


Huppe fasciée MHNT ZOO 2010 11 161 Ouzouer-sur-Trézée
Hoopoe eggs (Muséum de Toulouse)
10 ZhaoMengfu- Hoopoe on Bamboo. Shanghai mus.
Hoopoe on Bamboo by Zhao Mengfu, c. 1254–1322 (Shanghai Museum)
Upupa epops (Ramat Gan)002
Hoopoe in Israel. The hoopoe is Israel's national bird.

Hoopoes are monogamous, although the pair bond apparently only lasts for a single season. They are also 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.[10] Birds will try to stab rivals with their bills, and individuals are occasionally blinded in fights.[21] The nest is in a hole in a tree or wall, and has a narrow entrance.[19] It may be unlined, or various scraps may be collected.[14] 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.[10] They weigh 4.5 grams (0.16 oz).[18] A replacement clutch is possible.[14]

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.[22] The secretions stop soon before the young leave the nest.[18] 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.[10] The young also strike with their bill or with one wing.[18]

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.[10] The female later joins the male in the task of bringing food.[19] The young fledge in 26 to 29 days and remain with the parents for about a week more.[14]

Relationship with humans

Hoopoe bird watercolour
The hoopoe was recorded as residing in Britain in the 18th Century
Hoopoe de
Art from Naumann's Natural history of the birds of central Europe, 3rd Ed. of 1905
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Hoopoe Art about 1900

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.[23] For this reason the species is afforded protection under the law in many countries.[10]

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.[24] They achieved a similar standing in Minoan Crete.[18]

In the Torah, Leviticus 11:13–19,[25] hoopoes were listed among the animals that are detestable and should not be eaten. They are also listed in Deuteronomy as not kosher.[26]

Hoopoes also appear in the Quran and is known as the "hudhud", in Surah Al-Naml 27:20–24: "And he took attendance of the birds and said, "Why do I not see the hoopoe - or is he among the absent? (20) I will surely punish him with a severe punishment or slaughter him unless he brings me clear authorization." (21) But the hoopoe stayed not long and said, "I have encompassed [in knowledge] that which you have not encompassed, and I have come to you from Sheba with certain news. (22) Indeed, I found [there] a woman ruling them, and she has been given of all things, and she has a great throne. (23) I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of Allah, and Satan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from [His] way, so they are not guided, (24)".[27]

The sacredness of the Hoopoe and connection with Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is mentioned in passing in Rudyard Kipling's "The Butterfly that Stamped."

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.[28]

Hoopoes were thought of as thieves across much of Europe, and harbingers of war in Scandinavia.[29] In Estonian tradition, hoopoes are strongly connected with death and the underworld; their song is believed to foreshadow death for many people or cattle.[30] In medieval ritual magic, the hoopoe was thought to be an evil bird. The Munich Manual of Demonic Magic, a collection of magical spells compiled in Germany frequently requires the sacrifice of a hoopoe to summon demons and perform other magical intentions.[31]

Tereus, transformed into the hoopoe, is the king of the birds in the Ancient Greek comedy The Birds by Aristophanes. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, book 6, King Tereus of 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[32] and lappewincke (lappewinge) by John Gower in his Confessio Amantis,[33] or hoopoe in A.S. Kline's translation.[34] 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.[35] The hoopoe appears on the logo of the University of Johannesburg and is the official mascot of the university's sports teams. The municipalities of Armstedt and Brechten, Germany, have a hoopoe in their coats 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.[36]

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....


  1. ^ Jobling, James A.; Helm, Christopher (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: A&C Black. pp. 147, 396. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  2. ^ "Hoopoe". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Hackett, Shannon J.; et al. (2008). "A Phylogenomic Study of Birds Reveals Their Evolutionary History". Science. 320 (1763): 1763–1768. doi:10.1126/science.1157704. PMID 18583609.
  4. ^ Feduccia, Alan (1975). "The Bony Stapes in the Upupidae and Phoeniculidae: Evidence for Common Ancestry" (PDF). The Wilson Bulletin. 87 (3): 416–417.
  5. ^ a b Mayr, Gerald (2000). "Tiny Hoopoe-Like Birds from the Middle Eocene of Messel (Germany)". Auk. 117 (4): 964–970. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2000)117[0964:THLBFT]2.0.CO;2.
  6. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David. "Todies, motmots, bee-eaters, hoopoes, wood hoopoes & hornbills". IOC World Bird List v7.1. doi:10.14344/IOC.ML.7.1. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
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  9. ^ "Alaemon alaudipes - Avibase". avibase.bsc-eoc.org. Retrieved 2016-11-17.
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  11. ^ Reichlin, Thomas; Michael Schaub; Myles H. M. Menz; Murielle Mermod; Patricia Portner; Raphaël Arlettaz; Lukas Jenni (2008). "Migration patterns of Hoopoe Upupa epops and Wryneck Jynx torquilla: an analysis of European ring recoveries" (PDF). Journal of Ornithology. 150 (2): 393. doi:10.1007/s10336-008-0361-3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-05-27.
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  13. ^ a b Heindel, Matthew T. (2006). Jonathan Alderfer (ed.). Complete Birds of North America. National Geographic Society. p. 360. ISBN 0-7922-4175-4.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Pforr, Manfred; Alfred Limbrunner (1982). The Breeding Birds of Europe 2: A Photographic Handbook. London: Croom and Helm. p. 82. ISBN 0-7099-2020-2.
  15. ^ Soper, Tony (1982). Birdwatch. Exeter, England: Webb & Bower. p. 141. ISBN 0-906671-55-8.
  16. ^ Champion-Jones, RN (1937). "The Ceylon Hoopoe (Upupa epops ceylonensis Reichb.)". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 39 (2): 418.
  17. ^ Ali, Sálim; Ripley, Sidney Dillon; Dick, John Henry (1987). Compact Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan: Together with Those of Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Vol. 4 (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 124–129. ISBN 978-0-19-562063-4.
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  24. ^ Marshall, Amandine (2015). "The child and the hoopoe in ancient Egypt". Kmt. 72 (26.1): 59–63.
  25. ^ Leviticus 11:13–11:19
  26. ^ Deuteronomy 14:18
  27. ^ "Surah An-Naml [27]". Surah An-Naml [27]. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  28. ^ Smith, Margaret (1932). The Persian Mystics 'Attar'. New York: E.P.Dutton and Company. p. 27.
  29. ^ Dupree, N (1974). "An Interpretation of the Role of the Hoopoe in Afghan Folklore and Magic". Folklore. 85 (3): 173–93. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1974.9716553. JSTOR 1260073.
  30. ^ Mall Hiiemäe, Forty birds in Estonian folklore IV. translate.google.com
  31. ^ Kieckhefer, Richard (1998). Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer's Manual of the Fifteenth Century. Penn State Press. pp. 47–. ISBN 0-271-01751-1.
  32. ^ Garth, Samuel; Dryden, John; et al. "'Metamorphoses' by Ovid".
  33. ^ Book 5, lines 6041 and 6046. Gower, John (1889). Tales of the Seven Deadly Sins: Being the Confessio Amantis. Routledge – via Project Gutenberg.
  34. ^ Kline, A.S. (2000). "The Metamorphoses: They are transformed into birds". Archived from the original on 2007-07-11. Retrieved 2009-02-17.
  35. ^ Erlichman, Erez (30 May 2008). "Hoopoe Israel's new national bird". Ynetnews. Retrieved 2018-06-03.
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External links


Alaemon is a genus of birds in the Alaudidae family.

Black-billed wood hoopoe

The black-billed wood hoopoe (Phoeniculus somaliensis) is a species of bird in the family Phoeniculidae. It is native to eastern Africa where it is found in wooded and scrubby areas.

Black scimitarbill

The black scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus aterrimus), also known as the black wood hoopoe, is a species of bird in the family Phoeniculidae.


Bucerotiformes is an order that contains the hornbills, hoopoe and wood hoopoes. Sometimes classified as members of Coraciiformes although increasing amount of evidence seem to support these birds being distinctive enough to warrant their own order.

Eurasian hoopoe

The Eurasian hoopoe (Upupa epops) is the most widespread species of the genus Upupa, native to Europe, Asia and the northern half of Africa.

Forest wood hoopoe

The forest wood hoopoe (Phoeniculus castaneiceps) is a species of bird in the family Phoeniculidae. It is found in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Greater hoopoe-lark

The greater hoopoe-lark (Alaemon alaudipes), is a passerine bird which is a breeding resident of arid, desert and semi-desert regions from the Cape Verde Islands across much of northern Africa, through the Arabian peninsula, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It was formerly known as the bifasciated lark and sometimes as the large desert lark.

Green wood hoopoe

The green wood hoopoe (Phoeniculus purpureus) is a large, up to 44 cm (17 in) long, near-passerine tropical bird native to Africa. It is a member of the family Phoeniculidae, the wood hoopoes, and was formerly known as the red-billed wood hoopoe.

Hawker Hoopoe

The Hawker Hoopoe was a British prototype naval fighter aircraft designed and built in 1927 by Hawker Aircraft.

Service trials found the aircraft to be unsatisfactory, and it was superseded by the same company's Nimrod design.

Hoopoe starling

The hoopoe starling (Fregilupus varius), also known as the Réunion starling or Bourbon crested starling, is a species of starling which lived on the Mascarene island of Réunion, and became extinct in the 1850s. Its closest relatives were the Rodrigues starling and the Mauritius starling from nearby islands, and the three apparently originated in Southeast Asia. The bird was first mentioned during the 17th century and was long thought to be related to the hoopoe, from which its name is derived. Although a number of affinities have been proposed, it was confirmed as a starling in a DNA study.

The hoopoe starling was 30 cm (12 in) in length. Its plumage was primarily white and grey, with its back, wings and tail a darker brown and grey. It had a light, mobile crest, which curled forwards. The bird is thought to have been sexually dimorphic, with males larger and having more curved beaks. The juveniles were more brown than the adults. Little is known about hoopoe starling behaviour. Reportedly living in large flocks, it inhabited humid areas and marshes. The hoopoe starling was omnivorous, feeding on plant matter and insects. Its pelvis was robust, its feet and claws large, and its jaws strong, indicating that it foraged near the ground.

The birds were hunted by settlers on Réunion, who also kept them as cagebirds. Nineteen specimens exist in museums around the world. The hoopoe starling was reported to be in decline by the early 19th century, and was probably extinct before the 1860s. A number of factors have been proposed, including competition and predation by introduced species, disease, deforestation and persecution by humans, who hunted it for food and as an alleged crop pest.


Larks are passerine birds of the family Alaudidae. Larks have a cosmopolitan distribution with the largest number of species occurring in Africa. Only a single species, the horned lark, occurs in North America, and only Horsfield's bush lark occurs in Australia. Habitats vary widely, but many species live in dry regions.

Lesser hoopoe-lark

The lesser hoopoe-lark (Alaemon hamertoni) is a species of lark in the family Alaudidae. It is endemic to Somalia where its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical dry lowland grassland.

List of national symbols of Israel

National symbols of Israel are the symbols that are used in Israel and abroad to represent the country and its people.

Madagascan hoopoe

The Madagascan hoopoe, or Madagascar hoopoe, (Upupa marginata) is a species of hoopoe in the family Upupidae. It was previously considered a subspecies (Upupa epops marginata) of the hoopoe, but was split due to its vocalisations and small differences in plumage.

It is endemic to Madagascar. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical dry forests.

Rodrigues starling

The Rodrigues starling (Necropsar rodericanus) is an extinct species of starling that was endemic to the Mascarene island of Rodrigues. Its closest relatives were the Mauritius starling and the hoopoe starling from nearby islands; all three appear to be of Southeast Asian origin. The bird was only reported by French sailor Julien Tafforet, who was marooned on the island from 1725 to 1726. Tafforet observed it on the offshore islet of Île Gombrani. Subfossil remains found on the mainland were described in 1879, and were suggested to belong to the bird mentioned by Tafforet. There was much confusion about the bird and its taxonomic relations throughout the 20th century.

The Rodrigues starling was 25–30 centimetres (10–12 inches) long, and had a stout beak. It was described as having a white body, partially black wings and tail, and a yellow bill and legs. Little is known about its behaviour. Its diet included eggs and dead tortoises, which it processed with its strong bill. Predation by rats introduced to the area was probably responsible for the bird's extinction some time in the 18th century. It first became extinct on mainland Rodrigues, then on Île Gombrani, its last refuge.

Saint Helena hoopoe

The Saint Helena hoopoe (Upupa antaios), also known as the Saint Helena giant hoopoe or giant hoopoe, is an extinct species of the hoopoe (family Upupidae), known exclusively from an incomplete subfossil skeleton. It was last seen around 1550.It was endemic to the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. It was most likely flightless.

The first analysis of this species was given in 1963 by the British zoologist Philip Ashmole, who discovered, in the Dry Gut sediments east of Saint Helena, a left humerus which differed significantly from that of other Upupidae.

The incomplete skeleton, which was found in 1975 by the palaeontologist Storrs L. Olson, consists of both coracoids and the left femur.

Violet wood hoopoe

The violet wood hoopoe (Phoeniculus damarensis) is a species of bird in the family Phoeniculidae. It is found in Angola, Kenya, Namibia, and Tanzania.

White-headed wood hoopoe

The white-headed wood hoopoe (Phoeniculus bollei) is a species of bird in the family Phoeniculidae.

Wood hoopoe

The wood hoopoes and scimitarbills are a small African family, Phoeniculidae, of near passerine birds. They live south of the Sahara Desert and are not migratory. While the family is now restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa, fossil evidence shows that it once had a larger distribution. Fossils attributed to this family have been found in Miocene rocks in Germany.The wood hoopoes are related to the kingfishers, the rollers, and the hoopoe, forming a clade with this last according to Hackett et al. (2008). A close relationship between the hoopoe and the wood hoopoes is also supported by the shared and unique nature of their stapes. The wood hoopoes most resemble the true hoopoe with their long down-curved bills and short rounded wings. According to genetic studies, the two genera, Phoeniculus and Rhinopomastus, appear to have diverged about 10 million years ago, so some systematists treat them as separate subfamilies or even separate families.


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