The hoopoe is a small but rather memorable bird with bright plumage, a narrow elongated beak and a fan-shaped crest. Belongs to the family Upupidae (hoopoe). There are many beliefs associated with the bird. In Russia, his cry was perceived as the phrase “It's bad here!”, Which was considered a bad omen.
In the south of Russia and in Ukraine, the cry of the hoopoe was correlated with the beginning of the rain. In Caucasian legends, it was said about the appearance of a crest in birds. “One day the father-in-law saw his daughter-in-law combing her hair. Out of shame, the woman wanted to turn into a bird, but the comb remained in her hair.
Origin of the species and description
The names of hoopoe in different languages are onomatopoeic forms imitating the cry of a bird. The hoopoe was first classified in the clade Coraciiformes. But in the Sibley-Alquist taxonomy, the hoopoe is separated from Coraciiformes as a separate order of Upupiformes. Now all ornithologists agree that the hoopoe is a hornbill.
Interesting fact: Fossil specimens do not give a complete picture of the origin of hoopoes. The fossil history of their relatives is very ancient: their tree dates back to the Miocene as well as to an extinct related family, the Messelirrisoridae, starting.
His closest relatives — kingfishers and bee-eaters. However, hoopoes differ in color and behavior. There are nine subspecies of hoopoe (and some academic research suggests they should be considered separate species). Nine subspecies of the hoopoe are noted in the Gazetteer of the Birds of the World, and these subspecies vary in size and color depth in their plumage. The taxonomy within the subgroups is unclear and often contested, some taxonomists distinguish between the two subspecies africana and marginata with the rank of the individual species:
- epops epops — common hoopoe;
- epops longirostris;
- epops ceylonensis;
- epops waibeli;
- epops senegalensis — Senegalese hoopoe;
- epops major;
- epops saturata;
- epops africana — African;
- epops marginata — Madagascar.
The genus Upupa was created by Linnaeus in 1758.
Appearance and Features
There is no pronounced sexual dimorphism in hoopoes, the female is only slightly smaller than the male and has a slightly muted color. Establishing the floor is possible only at close range. On the head is a characteristic fan-shaped orange-red crest with a black top. Its length is 5-11 cm. This is the main distinguishing feature of the bird's appearance. The coloration of the head, breast and neck varies from species to species and has a rusty-brownish or pinkish tone, the underside of the body is pinkish-red with longitudinal dark spots on the sides.
The tail is medium, black in color with a wide white stripe in the center. The tongue is not very long, and therefore hoopoes often throw up the prey found and catch it with an open beak. The legs are stable and strong, lead-gray in color, with blunt claws. Juveniles are less brightly colored, have a short beak and crest. The wings are wide and rounded, with black and yellowish-white stripes.
The main parameters of the hoopoe:
- body length 28-29 cm;
- wingspan 45-46 cm;
- tail length 10 cm;
- beak length 5-6 cm;
- body weight approximately 50-80 g.
Hoopoes are slightly larger than starlings. The bird is easily recognizable, especially in flight, because it is the only European bird that combines red, black and white in its feathers. Thanks to their plumage, they blend in with their surroundings while feeding and foraging.
Where does the hoopoe live?
Hoopoe live in Europe, Asia and Africa (throughout Madagascar and sub-Saharan Africa). Most European birds and representatives of these birds of North Asia migrate to the tropics for the winter. The African population, on the contrary, leads a sedentary life throughout the year.
The bird has several habitat requirements: lightly vegetated ground + vertical surfaces with depressions (tree trunks, rocky slopes, walls, haystacks and empty burrows) wherever nesting is possible. Many ecosystems can provide these demands, so the hoopoe occupies a vast range of habitats: heathlands, savannahs, wooded steppes and grasslands. The Madagascar subspecies also inhabits dense primary forest.
The bird is found in all parts of Europe:
In Germany, hoopoes settle only in some areas. In addition, they have been seen in the south of Denmark, Switzerland, Estonia, the Netherlands, Latvia and England. And in 1975 they were discovered for the first time in Alaska. In Russia, hoopoe nests on the southern side of the Gulf of Finland, in many areas.
In Siberia, the range of hoopoe reaches Tomsk and Achinsk in the west, and in the eastern part of the country it settles from the north of Lake Baikal, further along the South Muya Range in Transbaikalia and descends to the Amur River basin. Outside of Russia in Asia, it lives almost everywhere. One copy was recorded at an altitude of 6400 m by the first expedition to Mount Everest.
Now you know where the hoopoe lives. Let's quickly find out what this bright bird eats!
What does the hoopoe eat?
Prefers to feed alone, more often on the ground, less often in the air. Strong and rounded wings make these birds fast and agile when chasing swarming insects. The hoopoe's foraging style is to move across open areas, stopping to examine the surface of the soil. The found larvae and pupae of insects are removed with a beak, or dug out with strong legs. The hoopoe's diet mainly consists of: large insects, sometimes small reptiles, frogs, seeds, berries.
When looking for food, the bird will explore piles of leaves, use its beak to pick up large stones and separate the bark.
Hoopoe foods include:
- dung beetles;
- death eaters;
- centipedes, etc.
Rarely tries to catch small frogs, snakes and lizards. The preferred prey size is around 20–30 mm. Large prey hoopoes are beaten on the ground or stone to kill and get rid of indigestible parts of insects, such as legs and wings.
Having a long beak, it digs into rotten wood, manure, makes shallow holes in the ground. Very often, hoopoes accompany grazing cattle. It has a short tongue, so sometimes it cannot swallow prey from the ground – it throws it up, catches it and swallows it. Large beetles are broken into pieces before use.
Character and lifestyle features
Thanks to the black and white stripes of the ailerons and tail in flight, the hoopoe resembles a large butterfly or jay. It flies low over the ground. The bird can be found with spread wings, basking in the sun. The hoopoe is not always easy to spot in the field, although it is not a shy bird, and most often lives in open spaces where it perches on higher objects. Hoopoe loves to take sand baths.
Interesting fact: Hoopoes have had a cultural impact on many countries. They were considered sacred in Ancient Egypt and a symbol of virtue in Persia. They were referred to in the Bible as nasty animals that should not be eaten. They were seen as thieves throughout much of Europe and harbingers of war in Scandinavia. In Egypt, birds were “depicted on the walls of tombs and temples.”
On the surface of the earth moves imperceptibly and quickly. Active during the day when looking for food. These are solitary birds that flock only for a short time when they need to migrate for the winter. During courtship, they fly slowly, choosing a place for a future nest. Quite often, the intended territory is used for breeding for several years. In the vicinity of other birds, fights between males can occur, reminiscent of cockfights.
Social structure and reproduction
The hoopoe is monogamous for only one breeding season. His courtship is characterized by loud rows of calls. If the female reacts, the male tries to impress the chosen one by offering food, and then often and for a long time pursues her. Copulation usually takes place on the ground. Birds have one brood per year. But this only applies to more northern regions, southern populations more often go to the second brood.
Interesting fact: Clutch size depends on the location of the birds: more eggs are laid in the northern hemisphere than in the southern . In northern and central Europe and Asia, the clutch size is about 12 eggs, while in the tropics about four, and in the subtropics — seven.
Eggs discolor quickly in a dirty nest. Their weight is 4.5 grams. Nesting areas are extremely diverse. Nesting height is up to five meters. The female lays bluish or greenish elliptical eggs, which are then incubated for 16 to 19 days. The average egg size is approximately 26 x 18 mm. After hatching, the chicks need 20 to 28 days to leave the nest. The eggs are incubated exclusively by the female.
During the breeding season, or at least during the first ten days, food for the entire family is obtained exclusively by the male. Only when the chicks grow up and can be left alone, the female begins to take part in the search for food. For about five more days, the chicks feed in the parent area before leaving.
Natural enemies of hoopoes
Hoopoes rarely become prey to predators. Adapting to the behavior of enemies, hoopoes and their offspring developed special forms of behavior. With a sudden appearance of a bird of prey, when a safe retreat to shelter is impossible, hoopoes take a camouflage pose, creating an unusual body contour with such richly colored plumage. The bird lies on the ground, spreading its wings and tail wide. The neck, head and beak are sharply directed upwards. It is mostly overlooked by predators in this immobile defensive posture. Some researchers have recently seen this position as a comfortable resting position.
Interesting fact: Predator-threatening chicks are also not defenseless. They hiss like snakes, and some older individuals deposit their excrement at the cave entrance as a defense. Even when they are caught, they continue to resist intensely.
However, a particularly effective remedy for predator attacks is the secretion of an oily liquid with a very unpleasant odor from the pancreas. In the nest, the brooder female has a very well developed defense against predators. The oil gland is rapidly modified to produce a foul-smelling substrate. The glands of chicks are able to do the same. These secretions are absorbed into the plumage. Fluid is released at regular intervals, and may increase in situations of overexcitation.
The masonry, which smells like rotting meat, is thought to help keep predators at bay, as well as prevent parasites from developing and possibly have an antibacterial effect. Secretion stops shortly before the juveniles leave the nest. Hoopoes in nature can be hunted by birds of prey, mammals, are devastated by snakes.
Population and species status
The species is not endangered according to the IUCN (LC status — of least concern). In the early 1980s, populations in northern Europe were reported to be declining, perhaps even due to climate change. In addition, the changes associated with human activities in the bird's natural habitats have led to the need for hoopoe to settle in olive groves, vineyards, orchards, parklands and other agricultural lands. However, in areas with intensive agriculture, their population is still declining. The hoopoe is also threatened by starlings, who compete with them for nesting sites.
Interesting fact: In 2016, the hoopoe was named bird of the year by the Union for the Protection of Birds in Russia. It replaced the redstart in this nomination.
The decrease in numbers over the past decades has been the result of limited food availability for birds. Pesticides used in agriculture, as well as a move away from extensive cattle ranching, have led to a decrease in the number of insects that are the main food for hoopoes. Despite the recent reduction in the total number of birds, the dynamics of the decrease today does not allow us to classify this species as a vulnerable animal, because. the total number of individuals remains high.