Upupidae – Hoopoes

Laden with exquisite colors and a crown of beautiful feathers, they are nature's biological pest control

An extraordinary group of birds that is home to the vibrant and distinct Hoopoes. Although small with just three extant species, this family has broad geographical coverage, including the Eurasian Hoopoe, African Hoopoe, and Madagascan Hoopoe, and is noted historically for the now-extinct Saint Helena Hoopoe.

Hoopoes, however, are distinguished by their unique plumage, presenting a striking pattern of black and white, which can be seen during their flight displays. These birds also possess round wings, a prominent and erectile crest of feathers on their heads, and long, thin, curved beaks perfectly adapted for probing the soil for insects.

The crest of the Hoopoe is perhaps its most notable feature, often fanned open to display an impressive array of feathers tipped with black and white. This crest can be erected during social displays, particularly in courtship and when the bird feels threatened, serving as a visual signal to others.

Hoopoes are ground foragers, spending much of their time probing the earth with their beaks in search of food. Their diet is quite diverse, including small insects like beetles, larvae, ants, and small reptiles and frogs. Their preference for insects makes them particularly beneficial to humans, as they help control populations of pests. Unlike some other bird species, Hoopoes typically do not catch their prey in flight; rather, they are adapted to a terrestrial lifestyle where open grounds with soft soil are crucial for their foraging activities.

When it comes to reproduction, Hoopoes are territorial and require specific conditions for nesting. They tend to favor old trees with cavities or holes where they can nest and lay their eggs. These natural tree cavities are essential for their breeding, as they do not typically excavate their own holes but rather utilize existing ones. The presence of these cavity-laden trees is, therefore, a critical component of their habitat.