The hoopoe /ˈhuːpuː/ (Upupa epops) is a colourful bird 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 Saint Helena hoopoe, is extinct, and the Madagascar subspecies of the hoopoe is sometimes elevated to a full species.
Upupa and epops are respectively the Latin and Ancient Greek names for the hoopoe; both, like the English name, are onomatopoeic forms which imitate the cry of the bird.
The hoopoe was classified in the clade Coraciiformes, which also includes kingfishers, bee-eaters, and rollers. A close relationship between the hoopoe and the woodhoopoes is also supported by the shared and unique nature of their stapes. In the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, the hoopoe is separated from the Coraciiformes as a separate order, the Upupiformes. Some authorities place the woodhoopoes in the Upupiformes as well. Now the consenus is that both hoopoe and the wood hoopoes, along with the hornbills are placed in Bucerotiformes.
The hoopoe is a medium-sized bird, 25–32 cm (9.8–12.6 in) long, with a 44–48 cm (17–19 in) wingspan. It weighs 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 call is typically a trisyllabic oop-oop-oop, which may give rise to its English and scientific names, although two and four syllables are also common. An alternative explanation of the English and scientific names is that they are derived from the French name for the bird, huppée, which means crested. In the Himalayas, the calls can be confused with that of the Himalayan cuckoo (Cuculus saturatus), although the cuckoo typically produces four notes. Other calls include rasping croaks, when alarmed, and hisses. Females produce a wheezy note during courtship feeding by the male. Both sexes, when disturbed, call a rough charrrrrr, strongly reminiscent of the warning cry of the Eurasian jay. The food begging call of the nestlings is similar to that of a common swift: tiiii.
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. They also enjoy taking dust and sand baths.
The diet of the hoopoe is mostly composed of insects, although small reptiles, frogs and 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, where their strong and rounded wings make them fast and manoeuvrable, in pursuit of numerous swarming insects. More commonly their foraging style is to stride over 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. Hoopoes will also feed on insects on the surface, probe into piles of leaves, and even use 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 a preferred prey size of around 20–30 mm. Larger prey items are beaten against the ground or a preferred stone to kill them and remove indigestible body parts such as wings and legs.