Although rarely seen in the UK the Hoopoe is common throughout southern Europe, Africa and Asia.
A hoopoe has a pinkish-brown/beige body with black and white striped wings which are broad and rounded in flight. It has a pinky-brown crest on its head with black tips and whilst normally laid flat, is very prominent when displayed fully erect. It has a broad white band on the outer part of the wing with black wing tips and a small white rump. Its short dark legs and slightly curved bill are ideal for foraging for grubs and other food directly off the ground. Whilst surprisingly difficult to spot whilst on the ground, in flight it transforms into an exotic bird with dazzling wing patterns with its wings closing only halfway and in a wave like pattern similar to a butterfly. Juveniles tend to be duller in colour.
Similar to the cuckoo the hoopoe gets its name from its call. A soft, low resonant poo – poo – poo or hoo – hoo – hoo sound repeated often.
Hoopoe calls, Interaction calls and flight call
Stanislas Wroza, XC560383. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/560383.
The hoopoe is predominantly a ground feeder foraging for insects, spiders, grubs, seeds and even small frogs. Occasionally it will also feed on berries.
The hoopoe is the national bird of Israel having been chosen from tens of thousands of votes in 2008.
Hoopoe in flight
Although hoopoes rarely breed in the UK up to 100 birds may arrive in April and May during their migration from sub-Saharan Africa. They are normally only found along the south coast of England as single birds alone, resting and feeding before recommencing their long journey to their breeding grounds in the warm climes of southern Europe. If you are lucky you may also see a hoopoe on its return to Africa during September to October. Spain has by far the largest European population of hoopoes.
Difficult to spot whilst ground feeding around hedges and tall grasses they can be spectacular in flight particularly when the late spring sunshine catches the bands of startling white feathers surrounded by black. Often when landing hoopoes will momentarily raise their fan-shaped crest. When nesting they prefer crevices or holes in vertical cliffs, walls or trees. Hoopoes can often be found laying on the ground sunbathing!
You are very unlikely to find hoopoes breeding within the UK; it has been reported that as few as ten pairs have bred on our shores over the past 200 years.
The life span of the hoopoe varies from between 5 to 10 years.
Hoopoes are now split into three separate species African, Madagascan and Eurasian. Hoopoes have even been found on Everest! They are best suited to warm temperatures and areas with low-intensity farming with minimum pesticide usage.