The Fascinating Hoopoe (Upupa epops), a Beautifully Colored Bird

GardenBy Jun 29, 2024

The Fascinating Hoopoe (Upupa epops), a Beautifully Colored Bird

The Hoopoe (Upupa epops) is a stunningly colorful bird with its reddish-brown plumage and black and white stripes. This bird belongs to the hoopoe family and visits France from April to September before migrating to Africa for the winter. Its most distinguishing feature is the rufous crest on its head, which can be raised into a fan shape. Let’s take a closer look at this magnificent bird, whose presence in our gardens is a sign of their ecological well-being.

About the Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

  • Order: Bucerotiformes
  • Family: Upupidae
  • Genus: Upupa
  • Species: epops

The Hoopoe is easily recognizable by its distinctive crest, which it can raise into a fan shape. This medium-sized bird measures around 32 cm in length, with a wingspan of 42 cm to 46 cm, and weighs an average of 55 g to 80 g. It is a joy to observe when it graces our gardens with its presence.

This fascinating bird is easy to identify and impossible to confuse with any other species. It has reddish-brown plumage with black and white barred wings and tail. Its captivating crest, which is raised into a fan shape, adds to its charm. The crest is reddish and bordered with black on the tip, adorning its head with panache. Additionally, the Hoopoe has a characteristic gray beak, measuring 5 cm to 6 cm in length, slightly curved.

Male and female Hoopoes are very similar, with the female being slightly smaller. The juvenile resembles the female but has a duller plumage. Its crest is shorter, as is its beak.

Interestingly, the Hoopoe’s flight resembles that of a butterfly rather than a bird. It is powerful, undulating, and characterized by slow wingbeats.

This beautiful bird has a deep, distinctive call consisting of three syllables, which can be heard from far away. It can be translated as “woupwoupwoup” or “pupupu,” earning it the nickname “pupu” in some regions.

A Migratory and Anthropophilic Bird

Hoopoes are migratory birds that return to our territories between late March and the beginning of May. Their arrival is often announced by the typical song of the male Hoopoe. They quickly reclaim the territories they left in late summer and resume their habits.

The Hoopoe is not very shy and can tolerate human presence as long as its peace is not disturbed. However, it is not truly gregarious, and breeding pairs isolate themselves from others. Once the offspring are born, it is common to see the entire family foraging together.

Habitat of the Hoopoe

The Hoopoe has a wide distribution range, spanning from the Atlantic Islands (Canary Islands and Madeira) to the Khabarovsk region in the Russian Far East. It only occurs in moderate latitudes, thus avoiding the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and Japan. In Africa, it is present throughout the continent, except for the southern part where another species dominates. In Asia, it occupies India, Indonesia, and extends to Oceania.

Although the Hoopoe is considered migratory, only the populations in Europe and the temperate part of Asia migrate south for the winter, seeking warmer climates around the Mediterranean, Maghreb, and the Arabian Peninsula. Hoopoes living in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, on the other hand, are completely sedentary.

The Hoopoe is particular about its breeding habitat. It prefers open or semi-open environments with accessible ground and the presence of trees or rocky cavities for nesting.

The ideal habitat for the Hoopoe is bocage, characterized by hedges, tall trees, and meadows. It can also be found in orchards, sometimes nesting in fruit trees, as well as in walls of abandoned buildings. This beautiful bird frequents parks, gardens, pastures, savannas, sandy heaths, vineyards, steppes, olive groves, and any place where short grass is present.

An Insectivorous Diet

The Hoopoe is primarily insectivorous, with its diet consisting mainly of beetle larvae, large insects like grasshoppers, butterflies, flies, ants, spiders, slugs, and large worms. It forages for these invertebrates by probing the ground with its long curved beak. It also uses its beak to extract larvae from tree bark or grass.

This diverse diet is vital for the Hoopoe’s survival and the nourishment of its offspring. Therefore, the presence of the Hoopoe indicates a relatively healthy ecosystem with a well-developed biodiversity. It is also highly sensitive to pesticides, making its presence a good indicator of a relatively pesticide-free environment.

Reproduction of the Hoopoe

During the breeding season, the Hoopoe displays fascinating courtship behaviors. Male Hoopoes go to great lengths to attract and impress females, using their song and offering food.

The males are the first to return from migration, immediately marking their territory with their song. They are monogamous and wait for the females to return in order to charm them. Once the pair is formed, the female takes the lead in nest-building.

Being a cavity nester, the Hoopoe searches for suitable nesting sites. This can be an old cracked tree, a rocky crevice, or even an abandoned or sparsely occupied human structure in a hamlet.

No elaborate nest construction is needed! The female Hoopoe lays 5 to 7 gray eggs directly onto the substrate between April and June. She incubates them alone for 16 to 18 days, occasionally being fed by her mate.

The characteristic crest starts to appear around the second week of life for the hatchlings. At around 4 weeks old, the young Hoopoes start to fly but remain near the nest until August, carrying out their activities alongside their parents. The breeding pair raises only one brood per year and cares for them until they migrate.

The Hoopoe as an Ally in the Garden

The Hoopoe forages on the lawns of parks and gardens, helping to control pests by feeding on larvae, worms, and insects. It plays a crucial role in keeping gardens and plantations free of harmful insects and their larvae. One particularly important contribution is its ability to capture processionary caterpillars, which are pests in many gardens.

However, the Hoopoe is highly sensitive to pesticides and herbicides. It is best to avoid using these chemicals if you want to attract this bird. Conversely, its presence indicates a healthy environment.

Rate this post


I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.