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Wildlife: Whooping it up

August 09, 2013

A popular bird in Persian literature and in traditional carpet lore, the hoopoe or upupa epops to give it its lilting ornithological name, is an eye-catching bird of fields, forest edges, parks and garden lawns, where, with its long, downward curving bill, it roots for the insects which are the main ingredient of its diet.

Very easy to identify as it wears a highly visible ‘crown’ — more correctly called an ‘erectile crest’ of feathers — similar to that of the equally well-known cockatoo the hoopoe, can be observed in different areas of Pakistan at different seasons of the year. It is a summer visitor only in the relatively cooler Northern Areas of the country, is seen in Sindh during autumn and winter, summer in Balochistan and is resident all the year round in the plains of the Punjab.

Many of the hoopoes seen in Sindh are actually on their way to East Africa where they breed and some of those electing to winter in the Punjab are thought to migrate northwards, all the way to Central Asia to breed during the spring which, all in all, means that hoopoes fairly get around!

These striking birds, they call out ‘whoop-whoop-whoop’, weigh in at around 70gm for males and a slightly less 65gm for females. They have a body length of approx 30cm, a wing length of 13–16cm, a tail length of approximately 10cm and a bill length between five to just over six centimetres.

The most conspicuous colours on this highly attractive bird are a kind of salmon pink, stark black and white with its head and body being primarily in shades of the aforementioned pink, and both wings and tail striped in black and white. Both males and females have the same plumage as do their offspring, although the latter tend to be paler in colour, growing into the more vibrant hues as they reach maturity.

Those that do breed here in Pakistan tend to do so during early to mid-spring, making their nests in existing holes and crevices of buildings and trees where, being rather lazy, they simply make a bed of straw, grasses and feathers for the average of five ice blue eggs that the female lays. All the work of incubating the eggs is done by the female only, but the male does remember to keep her well fed throughout the 15 – 17 days it takes until the eggs hatch.

After this both the male and the female undertake the seemingly never-ending task of gathering enough food, mostly caterpillars, to feed their young and continue to feed them even after they reach the fledgling stage and begin to hunt for themselves.Hoopoes are very interesting birds to have around and, if you ensure that water is always easily available in your garden, you may be lucky enough to have a pair take up residence close by.