Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Upupidae
Leach, 1820
Genus: Upupa
Linnaeus, 1758
Species: U. epops
Binomial name
Upupa epops
Linnaeus, 1758
Approximate range.
    nesting     resident (all year)     wintering

The Hoopoe (play /ˈhp/), Upupa epops, is a colourful bird that is found across Afro-Eurasia, notable for its distinctive 'crown' of feathers. It is the only extant species in the family Upupidae. One insular species, the Giant Hoopoe of Saint Helena, is extinct, and the Madagascar subspecies of the Hoopoe is sometimes elevated to a full species. Like the Latin name upupa, the English name is an onomatopoetic form which imitates the cry of the bird.



The Hoopoe is classified in the Coraciiformes clade, a group that also includes kingfishers, bee-eaters, rollers, and woodhoopoes (forming a clade with this one according to Hackett et al. (2008)[2]). A close relationship between the Hoopoe and the woodhoopoes is also supported by the shared and unique nature of their stapes.[3] In the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, the Hoopoe is separated from the Coraciiformes as a separate order, the Upupiformes. Some authorities place the woodhoopoes in the Upupiformes as well.[4]

The fossil record of the hoopoes is very incomplete, with the earliest fossil coming from the Quaternary.[5] The fossil record of their relatives is older, with fossil woodhoopoes dating back to the Miocene and those of an extinct related family, the Messelirrisoridae, dating from the Eocene.[4]

It is the only extant member of its family, although some treatments consider some of the subspecies as separate species. Several authors have separated the Madagascan subspecies (U. e. marginata) as a separate species, and also the resident African form U. e. africana. The morphological differences between the most commonly split subspecies, U. e. marginata, and the other subspecies are minor, and only U. e. marginata has distinctly different vocalisations.[6] One accepted separate species, the Giant Hoopoe, U. antaios, lived on the island of St Helena but became extinct in the sixteenth century, presumably due to introduced species.[5]

The genus Upupa was created by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758. It then included three other species with long curved bills:[7]


Nine subspecies of Hoopoe are recognised by the Kristin 2001 (in the Handbook of the Birds of the World), with these subspecies varying mostly in size and the depth of colour in the plumage. Two further subspecies have been proposed, U. e. minor in South Africa and U. e. orientalis in north western India.

U. e. epops photographed on April 6, 2008, Galicia, Spain.
Subspecies[6] Breeding range[6] Distinctive features[6]
U. e. epops
Linnaeus, 1758
NW Africa, Canary Islands, and from Europe through to south central Russia, north west China and south to north west India. Nominate
U. e. major
C.L. Brehm, 1855
North east Africa Larger than nominate, longer billed, narrower tailband, greyer upperparts
U. e. senegalensis
Swainson, 1913
Senegal to Ethiopia Smaller than nominate, shorter winged
U. e. waibeli
Reichenow, 1913
Cameroon through to north Kenya As U. e. senegalensis but darker plumage and more white on wings
U. e. africana
Bechstein, 1811
Central Africa to South Africa Much more rufous than nominate
U. e. marginata
Cabanis & Heine, 1860
Madagascar Larger, much more pale than U. e. africana
U. e. saturata
Lönnberg, 1909
Japan, Siberia to Tibet and south China As nominate, greyer mantle, less pink below
U. e. ceylonensis
Reichenbach, 1853
Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka Smaller than nominate, more rufous overall, no white in crest
U. e. longirostris
Jerdon, 1862
South east Asia Larger than nominate, pale

Distribution, habitat and migration

The Hoopoe is widespread in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar.[6] Most European and north Asian birds migrate to the tropics in winter.[8] In contrast the African populations are sedentary year-round. The species has been a vagrant in Alaska;[9] U. e. saturata was recorded as being seen there in 1975 in the Yukon Delta.[10] Hoopoes have been known to breed north of their European range,[11] and in southern England during warm, dry summers that provide plenty of grasshoppers and similar insects,[12] although as of the early 1980s northern European populations were reported to be in the decline possibly due to changes in climate.[11]

The Hoopoe has two basic requirements in 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[11]) in which to nest. These requirements can be provided in a wide range of ecosystems and as a consequence they inhabit a wide range of habitats from heathland, wooded steppes, savannas and grasslands, as well as glades inside forests. 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 them becoming common in olive groves, orchards, vineyards, parkland and farmland, although they are less common and declining in intensively farmed areas.[6] Hunting is of concern in southern Europe and Asia.[10]

Hoopoes make seasonal movements in response to rain in some regions such as in Ceylon and in the Western Ghats.[13] Birds have been seen at high altitudes during migration across the Himalayas and was recorded at about 6400 m by the first Mount Everest Expedition.[14]


The muscles of the head allow the Hoopoe's bill to be opened when it is inserted into the ground

The Hoopoe is a medium sized bird, 25–32 cm (9.8-12.6 in) long, with a 44–48 cm (17.3–19 in) wingspan weighing 46-89 g (1.6-3.1 oz). The species is highly distinctive, with a long, thin tapering bill that is black with a fawn base. The strengthened musculature of the head allows the bill to be opened when probing inside the soil. The hoopoe has broad and rounded wings capable of strong flight; these are larger in the northern migratory subspecies. The Hoopoe has a characteristic undulating flight, which is like that of a giant butterfly, caused by the wings half closing at the end of each beat or short sequence of beats.[6]

The song is a trisyllabic "oop-oop-oop", which gives rise to its English and scientific names. In the Himalayas, the calls can be confused with that of the Himalayan Cuckoo (Cuculus saturatus) although the cuckoo typically produces four notes. Other calls include rasping croaks and hisses. A wheezy note is produced by females during courtship feeding by the male.[14]

A hoopoe sunbathing, on Lanzarote.


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.[15] The Hoopoe also enjoys taking dust and sand baths.[16]

Diet and feeding

The diet of the Hoopoe is mostly composed of insects, although small reptiles and frogs as well as some 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, in pursuit of numerous swarming insects, where their strong and rounded wings make them fast and manoeuvrable. More commonly their foraging style is to stride on 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. In addition to feeding in soil Hoopoes will feed on insects on the surface, as well as probing into piles of leaves and even using 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 the preferred size of prey being around 20–30 mm. Larger prey items are beaten against the ground or a preferred stone in order to kill them and remove indigestible body parts such as wings and legs.[6]


The Hoopoe is monogamous, although the pair bond apparently only lasts for a single season. They are also territorial, with the male calling frequently to advertise his ownership of the territory. Chases and fights between rival males (and sometimes females) are common and can be brutal.[6] Birds will try to stab rivals with their bills, and individuals are occasionally blinded in fights.[17] The nest is in a hole in a tree or wall, with a narrow entrance;[16] it may be unlined or various scraps may be collected.[11] The female alone is responsible for incubating the eggs. Clutch size varies with location, with northern hemisphere birds laying more eggs than those in the southern hemisphere and birds in higher latitudes having larger clutches than those closer to the equator. In central and northern Europe and Asia the clutch size is around 12, whereas it is between four in the tropics and seven in the subtropics. The eggs are round and milky blue on laying but quickly discolour in the increasingly dirty nest.[6] They weigh 4.5 grams.[15] A replacement clutch is possible.[11]

The Hoopoes have well-developed anti-predators 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.[18] The secretions stop soon before the young leave the nest.[15] In addition to this secretion nestlings are able to direct streams of faeces at nest intruders from the age of six days, and will also hiss at intruders in a snake like fashion.[6] The young also strike with their bill or with one wing.[15]

The incubation period for the species is between 15 and 18 days. During incubation the female is fed by the male. The incubation period 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 days feather quills emerge which become adult feathers. The chicks are brooded by the female for between 9 to 14 days.[6] The female later joins the male in the task of bringing food.[16] The young fledge in 26 to 29 days and remain with the parents for about a week.[11]

Relationship with humans

The diet of the Hoopoe includes many species considered to be pests by humans; for example the pupae of the processionary moth, a damaging forest pest.[19] For this reason the species is afforded protection under the law in many countries.[6]

Hoopoes are distinctive birds and have made a cultural impact over much of their range. They were considered sacred in Ancient Egypt. So they were "depicted on the walls of tombs and temples"; they achieved a similar standing in Minoan Crete.[15]

In the Bible, Leviticus 11:13-19, hoopoes were listed among the animals that are detestable and should not be eaten. They are also listed in Deuteronomy (14:18) as not kosher.

Hoopoes also appear in the Quran in Surah Al-Naml 27:20-22 in the following context "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."

Hoopoes were seen as a symbol of virtue in Persia. A hoopoe was the leader of the birds in the Persian book of poems The Conference of the Birds.

They were thought of as thieves across much of Europe and harbingers of war in Scandinavia.[20] Also, in Estonian tradition the Hoopoes are strongly connected with death and the underworld, their song is seen as a forebode of death for many a people or cattle.[21]

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, married to Procne, rapes his wife's sister, Philomela 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—Philomela into a nightingale and Procne into a swallow. Tereus himself is turned into an epops (6.674), translated as lapwing by Dryden[22] and lappewincke (lappewinge) by John Gower in his Confessio Amantis,[23] or hoopoe, in A.S. Kline's translation.[24] 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.

Hoopoe (דוכיפת) in Israel. The Hoopoe is Israel's national bird.

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.[25] It is also the state-bird of Punjab province of India. The Hoopoe appears on the Logo of the University of Johannesburg, and is the official mascott of the University's sports. The municipality of Armstedt, Germany has a hoopoe in its coat of arms.


  1. ^ Birdlife International (2008). "Upupa epops". http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/142032/0/full. Retrieved 10 Feb 2009. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ Feduccia, Alan (1975). "The Bony Stapes in the Upupidae and Phoeniculidae: Evidence for Common Ancestry". The Wilson Bulletin 87 (3): 416–417. http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Wilson/v087n03/p0416-p0417.pdf. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ a b Olson, Storrs (1975). Paleornithology of St Helena Island, south Atlantic Ocean. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology. 23. http://www.sil.si.edu/smithsoniancontributions/Paleobiology/pdf_lo/SCtP-0023.pdf. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Kristin, A (2001). "Family Upupidae (Hoopoes)". In Josep, del Hoyo; Andrew, Elliott; Sargatal, Jordi. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 6, Mousebirds to Hornbills. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. pp. 396–411. ISBN 84-87334-30-X. 
  7. ^ (Latin) Linnaeus, C (1758). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata.. Holmiae. (Laurentii Salvii).. pp. 117–118. 
  8. ^ 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". Journal of Ornithology 150 (2): 393. doi:10.1007/s10336-008-0361-3. 
  9. ^ Dau, Christian; Paniyak, Jack (1977). "Hoopoe, A First Record for North America". Auk 94 (3): 601. http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Auk/v094n03/p0601-p0601.pdf. 
  10. ^ a b Heindel, Matthew T.; Jonathan Alderfer (ed.) (2006). Complete Birds of North America. National Geographic Society. pp. 360. ISBN 0-7922-4175-4. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Pforr, Manfred; Alfred Limbrunner (1982). The Breeding Birds of Europe 2: A Photographic Handbook. London: Croom and Helm. pp. 82. ISBN 0-7099-2020-2. 
  12. ^ Soper, Tony (1982). Birdwatch. Exeter, England: Webb & Bower. pp. 141. ISBN 0-906671-55-8. 
  13. ^ Champion-Jones,RN (1937). "The Ceylon Hoopoe (Upupa epops ceylonensis Reichb.)". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 39 (2): 418. 
  14. ^ a b Ali, S. & S. D. Ripley (1983). Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. Volume 4 (2 ed.). Oxford University Press, New Delhi. pp. 124–129. 
  15. ^ a b c d e Fry, Hilary C. (2003). Christopher Perrins. ed. Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Firefly Books. pp. 382. ISBN 1-55297-777-3. 
  16. ^ a b c Harrison, C.J.O.; Christopher Perrins (1979). Birds: Their Ways, Their World. The Reader’s Digest Association. pp. 303–304. ISBN 0-89577-065-2. 
  17. ^ Martín-Vivaldi, Manuel; José J. Palomino & Manuel Soler (2004). "Strophe Length in Spontaneous Songs Predicts Male Response to Playback in the Hoopoe Upupa epops". Ethology 110 (5): 351–362. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.2004.00971.x. 
  18. ^ Martín-Platero, Antonio M.; Eva Valdivia,1, Magdalena Ruíz-Rodríguez, Juan J. Soler, Manuel Martín-Vivaldi, Mercedes Maqueda, & Manuel Martínez-Bueno (2006). "Characterization of Antimicrobial Substances Produced by Enterococcus faecalis MRR 10-3, Isolated from the Uropygial Gland of the Hoopoe (Upupa epops)". Applied and Environmental Microbiology 72 (6): 4245–4249. doi:10.1128/AEM.02940-05. PMC 1489579. PMID 16751538. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=1489579. 
  19. ^ Battisti, A; M. Bernardi & C. Ghiraldo (2000). "Predation by the hoopoe (Upupa epops) on pupae of Thaumetopoea pityocampa and the likely influence on other natural enemies". Biocontrol 45 (3): 311–323. doi:10.1023/A:1009992321465. 
  20. ^ Dupree N (1974). "An Interpretation of the Role of the Hoopoe in Afghan Folklore and Magic". Folklore 85 (3): 173–93. JSTOR 1260073. 
  21. ^ Mall Hiiemäe, translate.google.com
  22. ^ Garth, Sir Samuel; John Dryden, et al.. "'Metamorphoses' by Ovid". http://classics.mit.edu/Ovid/metam.6.sixth.html. 
  23. ^ Book 5, lines 6041 and 6046. Gower, John. "Confessio Amantis". Project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/266/266-h/266-h.htm. Retrieved 2009-02-17. 
  24. ^ Kline, A.S. (2000). "The Metamorphoses: They are transformed into birds". http://www.tkline.freeserve.co.uk/Metamorph6.htm#_Toc64106378. Retrieved 2009-02-17. [dead link]
  25. ^ Reuters photo credit: Ofir Lotan (May 29, 2008). "Day in pictures". San Francisco Chronicle. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?o=1&f=/g/a/2008/05/29/dip.DTL. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • HOOPOE — (Heb. דּוּכִיפַת; AV lapwing ), bird included in the Pentateuch among the unclean birds (Lev. 11:19; Deut. 14:18). The hoopoe was confused by Karaites with the chicken, for which reason they prohibited the eating of the latter (see ibn ezra on… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • hoopoe — 1660s, from L. upupa, imitative of its cry (Cf. Gk. epops hoopoe ). If anybody smears himself with the blood of this bird on his way to bed, he will have nightmares about suffocating devils. [Cambridge bestiary, 12c.] …   Etymology dictionary

  • Hoopoe — Hoop oe, Hoopoo Hoop oo, n. [So called from its cry; cf. L. upupa, Gr. ?, D. hop, F. huppe; cf. also G. wiedenhopf, OHG. wituhopfo, lit., wood hopper.] (Zo[ o]l.) A European bird of the genus {Upupa} ({Upupa epops}), having a beautiful crest,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • hoopoe — ► NOUN ▪ a salmon pink bird with a long downcurved bill, a large crest, and black and white wings and tail. ORIGIN Latin upupa, imitative of the bird s call …   English terms dictionary

  • hoopoe — [ho͞o′po͞o΄] n. [earlier houpe < Fr huppe < L upupa, echoic of its cry] an Old World coraciiform bird (Upupa epops) of a family (Upupidae) having only one species, with a long curved bill and an erectile crest …   English World dictionary

  • hoopoe — /hooh pooh/, n. any Old World bird of the family Upupidae, esp. Upupa epops, of Europe, having an erectile, fanlike crest. [1660 70; var. of obs. hoopoop (imit.); c. LG huppup; cf. L upupa] * * * ▪ bird  (Upupa epops), strikingly crested bird… …   Universalium

  • hoopoe — /ˈhupu/ (say hoohpooh), /ˈhupoʊ/ (say hoohpoh) noun any of the birds of the order Upupiformes, of Europe, Asia and Africa, especially the Eurasian hoopoe, Upupa epops, having a tawny body, black and white striped wings and tail, a fanlike… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Hoopoe — kukutis statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Upupa epops angl. Hoopoe vok. Wiedehopf …   Paukščių anatomijos terminai

  • hoopoe — kukučiai statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Upupa angl. hoopoe vok. Wiedehopf, m rus. удод, m pranc. huppe fasciée, f ryšiai: platesnis terminas – kukutiniai siauresnis terminas – kukutis …   Paukščių pavadinimų žodynas

  • hoopoe — kukutis statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Upupa epops angl. hoopoe vok. Wiedehopf, m rus. удод, m pranc. huppe fasciée, f ryšiai: platesnis terminas – kukučiai …   Paukščių pavadinimų žodynas

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