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Hoopoe

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The Hoopoe, 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.

The English name is derived from Latin upupa, which imitates the cry of the bird.

Contents

Subspecies

It is the only extant member of its family, although some 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 (Africana).

Nine subspecies of Hoopoe are recognised [1], 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.

Geographical habitat

The Hoopoe is widespread in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. Most European and north Asian birds migrate to the tropics in winter. In contrast the African populations are sedentary year-round. The species has been a vagrant in Alaska; U. e. saturata was recorded as being seen there in 1975 in the Yukon Delta.

Hoopoes have been known to breed north of their European range, and in southern England during warm, dry summers that provide plenty of grasshoppers and similar insects, although as of the early 1980s northern European populations were reported to be in the decline possibly due to changes in climate.

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 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.

Hunting is of concern in southern Europe and Asia.

Hoopoes make seasonal movements in response to rain in some regions such as in Ceylon and in the Western Ghats

Physical Features

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.

The Hoopoe's song is a trisyllabic "oop-oop-oop", which gives rise to its English and scientific names

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. The Hoopoe also enjoys taking dust and sand baths.

Diet

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.

Hoopoe in the Qur'an

The Prophets of the Bani Israil, King Sulayman and King Dauood, peace be upon them, had hoopoes for their company.

Prophet Solomon was a king and the ruler of Syria and Palestine whose armies consisted of troops made of men, Jinn and birds. It is possible that the birds were employed for communicating the messages, hunting and for other suitable services.

In the Qur'an we read that Prophet Solomon reviewed his birds and found the hoopoe (hud-hud) missing. His most mobile arm was the birds, which were light on the wing and flew and saw everything like efficient scouts. Prophet Solomon expressed his anger and his desire to punish the hoopoe severely if it did not present itself before him with a reasonable excuse.

The relevant Qur'anic passage is as follows (Ch. 27, vv. 20-28):

And he (Solomon) took a muster of the Birds; and he said: "Why is it I see not the Hoopoe? Or is he among the absentees?

I will certainly punish him with a severe penalty, or execute him, unless he bring me a clear reason (for absence)."

But the Hoopoe tarried not far: he (came up and) said: "I have compassed (territory) which thou hast not compassed, and I have come to thee from Saba [2] with tidings true.

I found (there) a woman ruling over them and provided with every requisite; and she has a magnificent throne.

I found her and her people worshipping the sun besides Allah: Satan has made their deeds seem pleasing in their eyes, and has kept them away from the Path,- so they receive no guidance,-

(Kept them away from the Path), that they should not worship Allah, Who brings to light what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and knows what ye hide and what ye reveal.

Allah!- there is no god but He!- Lord of the Throne Supreme!"

(Solomon) said: "Soon shall we see whether thou hast told the truth or lied!

Go thou, with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them: then draw back from them, and (wait to) see what answer they return"...

Notes

Compiled by Ustadh Luqman Al-Andalusi

References

  1. The Handbook of the Birds of the World
  2. Sheba, a well-known rich people of southern Arabia, now the present day Yemen. Their capital city was Ma'rib which lay about 55 miles to the north­east of Sana, the present capitol of Yemen