HOOPOE (Fr. Huppe, Lat. Upupa, Gr. ἔποψ—all names bestowed apparently from its cry), a bird long celebrated in literature, and conspicuous by its variegated plumage and its large erectile crest,[1] the Upupa epops of naturalists, which is the type of the very peculiar family Upupidae, placed by Huxley in his group Coccygomorphae, but considered by Dr Murie (Ibis, 1873, p. 208) to deserve separate rank as Epopomorphae. This species has an exceedingly wide range in the Old World, being a regular summer-visitant to the whole of Europe, in some parts of which it is abundant, as well as to Siberia, mostly retiring southwards in autumn to winter in equatorial Africa and India, though it would seem to be resident throughout the year in north-eastern Africa and in China. Its power of wing ordinarily seems to be feeble; but it is capable of very extended flight, as is testified by its wandering habits (for it occasionally makes its appearance in places very far removed from its usual haunts), and also by the fact that when pursued by a falcon it will rapidly mount to an extreme height and frequently effect its escape from the enemy. About the size of a thrush, with a long, pointed and slightly arched bill, its head and neck are of a golden-buff—the former adorned by the crest already mentioned, which begins to rise from the forehead and consists of broad feathers, gradually increasing in length, tipped with black and having a subterminal bar of yellowish-white. The upper part of the back is of a vinous-grey, and the scapulars and flight-feathers are black, broadly barred with white tinged in the former with buff. The tail is black with a white chevron, marking off about the distal third part of its length. The legs and feet are as well adapted for running or walking as for perching, and the scutellations are continued round the whole of the tarsi. Chiefly on account of this character, which is also possessed by the larks, Sundevall (Tentamen, pp. 53-55) united the Upupidae and Alaudidae in the same “cohors” Holaspideae. Comparative anatomy, however, forbids its being taken to signify any real affinity between these groups, and the resemblance on this point, which is by no means so striking as that displayed by the form of the bill and the coloration in certain larks (of the genus Certhilauda, for instance), must be ascribed to analogy merely.


Pleasing as is the appearance of the hoopoe as it fearlessly parades its showy plumage, some of its habits are much the reverse. All observers agree in stating that it delights to find its food among filth of the most abominable description, and this especially in its winter-quarters. But where it breeds, its nest, usually in the hole of a tree or of a wall, is not only partly composed of the foulest material, but its condition becomes worse as incubation proceeds, for the hen scarcely ever leaves her eggs, being assiduously fed by the cock as she sits; and when the young are hatched, their faeces are not removed by their parents,[2] as is the case with most birds, but are discharged in the immediate neighbourhood of the nest, the unsanitary condition of which can readily be imagined. Worms, grubs, and insects generally form the hoopoes’ food, and upon it they get so fat in autumn that they are esteemed a delicate morsel in some of the countries of southern Europe, and especially by the Christian population of Constantinople.[3]

Not a year passes but the hoopoe makes its appearance in some part or other of the British Islands, most often in spring, and if unmolested would doubtless stop to breed in them, and a few instances are known in which it has done so. But its remarkable plumage always attracts attention, and it is generally shot down so soon as it is seen, and before it has time to begin a nest. Eight or nine so-called species of the genus have been described, but of them the existence of five only has been recognized by Sharpe and Dresser (Birds of Europe, pt. vii.). Besides the Upupa epops above treated, these are U. indica, resident in India and Ceylon; U. longirostris, which seems to be the form of the Indo-Chinese countries; U. marginata, peculiar to Madagascar; and U. africana or U. minor of some writers, which inhabits South Africa to the Zambesi on the east and Benguela on the west coast. In habits and appearance they all resemble the best-known and most widely-spread species.[4]  (A. N.) 

  1. Hence the secondary meaning of the French word huppe—a crest or tuft (cf. Littré, Dict. français, i. 2067).
  2. This indeed is denied by Naumann, but by him alone, and the statement in the text is confirmed by many eye-witnesses.
  3. Under the name of Dukipath, in the authorized version of the Bible translated “lapwing” (Lev. xi. 19, Deut. xiv. 18), the hoopoe was accounted unclean by the Jewish law. Arabs have a great reverence for the bird, imparting to it marvellous medicinal and other qualities, and making use of its head in all their charms (cf. Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, pp. 208, 209).
  4. The genera Rhinopomastus and Irrisor are generally placed in the Family Upupidae, but Dr Murie, after an exhaustive examination of their osteology, regards them as forming a group of equal value.