The Hypnotisizing Hoopoe (Upupa epops)


Media: Digital painting, Proctreate

My latest work has followed a curiosity about nature’s forms and how they fit into its geometry. In this exploration, I was drawn to the distinctive hoopoe, a type of hornbill, found in physical and cultural landscapes throughout the world. It is a fascinating organism and cultural symbol and its majestic crest fits perfectly into a blooming flower of life pattern. I love how once we start looking, we can find endless connections between the forms of life and the structure of the underlying patterns of the universe. Read on to learn more about the hypnotizing hoopoe!

Hoopoe photograph: From Encyclopedia of Life (CC)

Hoopoe were historically considered to be one species but are now separated into one extinct and several extant species, including the Madagascar, African and Eurasian Hoopoe. Hoopoe are the most widespread of the genus Upupa which also included the northern bald ibis and the red-billed cough- classified by Carl Linnaeus in the 1758’s Systema naturae.

The Eurasian (Hoopoe epops) is a wide-ranging temperate species, adapted to a range of habitats, from steppes to grasslands to forests. It is notable for its crown of feathers and distinctive curved bill, strong enough to dig into the earth and open under the soil in its extraction of prey. Its diverse diet, including small reptiles, frogs, plants and a variety of insects, make it integral to the control of some forest pests and it is protected in some areas for this reason.

Hoopoe Photo from Encyclopedia of Life (CC)

Though in decline in parts of its range, this species is widespread and listed as of Least Concern by the IUCN, no doubt due to its many adaptive life strategies. Along with the advantage of a tough bill and claws, the female hoopoe emits a waxy secretion from her preening gland that smells of rotten meat, which she will use to coat herself and any eggs- keeping potential predators at bay while adding flexibility and water-resistance to her feathers. Meanwhile, males engage in intense beak to beak combat during territorial and mating disputes and chicks can squirt liquid feces when threatened. With their mottled feather patterns, hoopoe are well camouflaged while foraging on the ground and when flying their wings can resemble the shifting flight of butterflies. To add to its charming nature, the hoopoe’s name is an Onomatopea of its vocalization of hoo hoo hoo….


Egyptian temple carving housed in Cairo Museum (CC)

Perhaps in part due to their unique behaviors and characteristics, hoopoes have carried deep mythological significance for eons. Considered in many cultures to be the most majestic of birds, in the Middle East they have been symbolic of hereditary power and succession and their depictions can be found lining tombs and temples of ancient Egypt, alongside ibis, night herons and blooming papyrus flowers. As spirit guardians, they were thought to protect and shepherd the souls of the dead in their journey to the afterlife. A symbol of virtue in Persia and aggression in Greece, they can even be found on several German coats of arms. This culturally impactful species was named the king of birds in Aristophanes The Birds and was considered their leader in the Persian The Conference of the Birds due to their identification with wisdom. The hoopoe is the national bird of Israel and, when spreading the word of Solomon, speaks in the Qu’ran: “I come unto thee with Sheba sure tidings.” With its spiritual associations and fascinating biology, It is no wonder this delightful character has been revered and admired through the centuries.

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 To dig deeper, like the Hoopoe, visit the links below for further information about this fascinating survivor of cultures and ecosystems throughout the centuries!

The Encyclopedia of Life: Hoopoe page


Thanks for your interest! 🌺
~ Tamara