Upupa epops

I’ve only seen Hoopoes (Upupa epops, aka Eurasian Hoopoe) around human habitation. Apparently waste land around towns is an ideal ecology for this striking bird. It needs broken ground in which to forage for insects and small reptiles, and broken vertical spaces for nesting. One should be able to see it in the wild around broken cliffs, but I can’t say that I’ve ever spotted one near a cliff. I haven’t seen any Hoopoes nesting either, but that may just be because I haven’t looked. They are skittish, so to take a good photo you have to sneak softly and carry a big lens. I’d already practiced sneaky photography on yellow-wattled lapwings, so when I saw this Hoopoe in another part of the same field, I was ready. It turned its back to me, ready to fly, and kept both eyes on me. But I guess the ground it was on provided good food, so it didn’t quite take off.

I’ve never really seen anything else which is similar to a Hoopoe. As a child, I would lump it with woodpeckers, but a little observation tells you that it is totally different; it pecks on the ground and never drills into wood. There are three or four species of Hoopoes, largely in non-overlapping ranges across Africa, Asia, and Europe, but they are the only birds in the genus Upupa. There seems to be an emerging consensus that their closest relatives are the hornbills. Most hornbills evolved in Asia, but a dearth of fossil Hoopoes makes it hard to tell where they evolved. A first search led me to around 15,000 papers on this species, which I’ll try to skim before my next birding trip. I guess I’m not the only one who’s puzzled and fascinated by Hoopoes.