The Hip Hoopoe
Aaron Noah M.
Location: Middle East
Housing developments are usually bad news for wildlife, but the Hoopoe bird (or Hud Hud in Arabic) is one animal that has taken a liking to our messy urban sprawl. These funky birds prefer bare or lightly vegetated environments to forage, which makes artificial lawns and garden areas so popular for the Hoopoe.
Throughout Europe and Asia, the Hoopoe is a migratory bird, but the warm climates of Africa and here in the Middle East allow it to take up residence all year round. Throughout history, the Hoopoe has been well regarded, especially because the bird enjoys dining on many insects that humans consider as pests. The Hoopoe has been cheerfully noted in ancient Egyptian and Greek texts, as well as the Bible and the Holy Quran.
The Hoopoe is a striking bird, with the top half of its plumage painted in ochre and the bottom half in black and white stripes. It also has a distinctive needle-like bill, which the bird uses to probe the soil, grass, or leaves. It likes to feast on various insect larvae, crickets, beetles, earwigs, cicadas, or ants, but it occasionally goes for small lizards, frogs, or berries as well.
The Hoopoe is slightly monogamous, and I use the word “slightly” because the pair bond normally lasts only through a mating season. Males will fight (often brutal with those pointy beaks) for their territory and mating privileges, and then help the females to build a nest and feed the offspring.
Hoopoe chicks are well protected from predators. During incubation and brooding, their mothers secrete a foul smelling liquid (which imitates the fine aroma of rotting meat) to rub into their plumage. The chicks themselves are also capable of indecent assaults, including sharp attacks with their little bills, hissing noises (which imitates a snake), and the unique ability the direct streams of feces at nest intruders.
Thankfully, the Hoopoes pictured here were more friendly when I encroached upon their territory. These photos were taken on a stretch of lawn in MotorCity as the birds were blissfully foraging for insects. You can find these critters throughout the UAE and Oman, especially on flat grassy areas which are prevalent in residential areas.