Bird Notes : Hoopoe

The Hoopoe
Upupa epops

The Hoopoe is a bird with a crazy crest, an equally crazy name, that flies like a butterfly and has a particularly stinky nest. Around the size of a Blackbird they are an odd pink/brown/orange colour, with distinctive black and white bars on the back and wings and possess a long, black, gently curving bill. They are mainly a bird of continental Europe but each year a handful make their way over the channel to the South-east and East Anglia, with fewer still being blown off course all the way to Scotland.

The crest is usually down, but is raised when they become excited and is one possible explanation for the name, huppée being a French word for crest. In another version it’s name comes from it’s call, a low “hoop-hoop-hoop” heard only during courtship. It’s maximal hoopiness is added to by it’s scientific name - Upupa epops - making it by far the most pleasing scientific name to say out loud.

In flight a Hoopoe looks like a giant butterfly or moth, with stripey rounded wings that almost touch on each wingbeat. They feed mainly on the ground, picking up larvae, but their long curved bill is adapted to probing the ground is attached to special muscles in the skull and mandible that allow it to force open small openings with huge force.

For such a beautifully unusual bird their habits are, to us, disgusting. They are more than happy to go searching for food on dung heaps, face pressed deep down into the muck in search of small grubs - hence an old name of “Dung bird” - but they also take their indifference to poo home with them. Their nests, usually a hole in a tree, are renowned for being ridiculously smelly. A Hoopoe never cleans out it’s home, instead deliberately defecting in it, in the hope that the stench will ward off predators. When not stinking the place out they can often be seen resting on the ground, wings outstretched, crest up, head back, soaking up the sun.

Information

Family Coraciiformes (Kingfishers, bee-eaters, rollers, motmots, and todies)
Habitat Woods, heaths and fields
Size 27-30cm Long
Diet Insects
Breeds Apr-June, 1 Brood
Nest Stinky hollow in tree or rocks
Eggs 5-8. Grey
Range Summer visitor to Europe, some - very few - making their way across the channel
Collective noun Cry
Old names Hoop; Houp; Dung bird; Child of Soloman

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