Hoopoe Hoopoe The hoopoe has a characteristic crown of feathers, a long, curved beak and is typically a sandy color with white and black stripes. (Photo: cowboy54 / Shutterstock)

10 things you didn't know about the hoopoe

Israel's national bird may appear to be all fluff, but it's certainly got spunk.

With its bold stripes, long, curved beak and funky 'do, the hoopoe is one of the most noticeable birds around. Just by looking at it, it's easy to tell the hoopoe has moxie. But here's what you may not know:

1. The hoopoe is named after its call.

Hoopoe on treeA hoopoe scopes out a tree to see if it is suitable for a nest. (Photo: YK/Shutterstock)

Its latin name, upupa, describes the call more accurately — a loud "oop!" in sets of three. To listen to the call for yourself, check out this recording on Hark. This call isn’t the only noise a hoopoe makes — “char” is a warning; “tii” means the babies want food; and a wheezing sound comes from the female during courtship rituals.

2. The hoopoe is the national bird of Israel.

European bee eater and hoopoeA European bee eater looks enviously at this hoopoe's breakfast. (Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock)

After a seminar to nominate species and once tens of thousands of votes were counted, the hoopoe was chosen as a national symbol in 2008, winning over the bulbul, warbler and finch. While the bee-eater (pictured above) might be more colorful, we have to admit the hoopoe has a lot going for him.

3. Hoopoes don’t make a typical nest.

Female bee eaterA female bee eater peeks out of her tree nest. (Photo: Vetapi/Shutterstock)

They don’t gather twigs and find a nice nook on a tree branch. Rather, they look for holes in tree trunks, cliffs, and (in urban environments) walls. Indeed, a birdhouse is the perfect nest habitat for these birds. Females stay inside the nest until the eggs hatch, and some birds will try to close up the nest as much as possible, leaving an opening for papa bird to bring food. Females and young also have the ability to secrete a stinky odor to ward off predators. 

4. Baby hoopoes are far from helpless.

Hoopoe chicks in nestYoung hoopoe chicks peek their heads out of their tree nest to get a snack from papa bird. (Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock)

In addition to being able to stink up the place, hoopoe chicks are also able to ward off predators by strategically aiming their, er, droppings. They’ve been known use their bill and wings to fight off intruders, and even make a threatening hissing sound. 

5. Hoopoes range throughout Africa, Europe and Asia.

Hoopoe near groundWhen they're not nesting, hoopoes spend time close to the ground, keeping an eye on their territory and looking for unsuspecting insects. (Photo: costas anton dumitrescu /Shutterstock)

They nest and reside in Israel, and migratory populations spend their winters in western India and throughout central and eastern Africa. Some populations of hoopoes have adapted to their specific range, and are considered subspecies. 

6. The hoopoe’s beak is its most important tool.

Hoopoe callingOnce a hoopoe has found some grub, it tosses it in the air and catches it. (Photo: neelsky/Shutterstock)

The characteristic lengthy, slightly bent beak of the hoopoe allows it to forage through vegetation, dig into the ground to find insects to eat, and quickly feed nestlings mid-flight. They also use their beaks aggressively, in territorial fights and elsewhere — they’ve been observed scooping up winged insects and beating them against a rough surface to remove wings, legs and other parts that the bird deems unsuitable for eating.

7. The hoopoe’s flight resembles that of a butterfly.

Hoope in flightA hoopoe maneuvers with agility in mid-air after feeding its young. (Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH /Shutterstock)

Its large, round wings move like waves, only closing halfway. Migratory populations of hoopoes have the most impressive wings.

8. Hoopoes engage in something called courtship feeding.

Hoopoe courtship feedingA male hoopoe brings an insect offering for the female's consideration. If all goes well, she will accept and they will start a family. (Photo: Micrea Bezergheanu/Shutterstock)

These birds have a peculiar courtship ritual that revolves around food. The male presents insects to the female for her to eat — a type of so-called "nuptial gift." Obviously, the male hoopoe knows the way to a lady's heart.

9. The hoopoe can often be seen bathing in the sun and sand.

Hoopoe sunbathingA crouched hoopoe appears to be either ill or angry... but it's actually relaxing in the sunshine. (Photo: Amber Habib/Flickr)

It may look as though it’s trying to warn you to get away, but chances are the hoopoe is getting low to the ground and spreading out in order to absorb the energy of the sun’s rays.

10. The hoopoe is unique, alone in its taxonomic family.

hoopoe head tiltA hoopoe comically tilts its head, as if saying, "Who, me?" (Photo: cowboy54/Shutterstock)

Its closest relatives are kingfishers, bee-eaters, and woodhoopoes. Though they resemble woodhoopoes in build and stance, hoopoes are different in their coloration and behavior. But just because they are the only member of the Upupidae family doesn't mean these fellows aren't plentiful. There are nine subspecies of hoopoe, (and some academic texts suggest these should be considered separate species entirely). 


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10 things you didn't know about the hoopoe
Israel's national bird may appear to be all fluff, but it's certainly got spunk.