Bird’s-eye view – African hoopoe

100 Miles of Namib Desert
July 27, 2012
Conservation success – What a wonderful bird is the pelican!
July 27, 2012
100 Miles of Namib Desert
July 27, 2012
Conservation success – What a wonderful bird is the pelican!
July 27, 2012

African Hoopoe, Upupa africana

Roberts No 295

By Pompie Burger


The hoopoe is one of the better-known and more easily identifiable birds in our gardens.

Everything about this conspicuous bird is unique, from its elaborate crest, which is raised when it alights or is alarmed, to its beautiful soft ‘hoopoo’ call.

If you want to get a picture of a hoopoe with its crest raised, alarm it or wait for it to land and voilà, you’ve got your perfect shot.

Apparently, these birds are not very much into hygiene, because their nests, which are either in a tree cavity or in an old woodpecker or barbet hole, are rather smelly affairs and something you do not want at your doorstep.

The reason for this is that all the excretions are left inside the nest. The chicks and females also discharge an oil-like excretion when in danger, which does not do much to improve the already smelly nest. Indeed, it aggravates this bad odour to such an extent that it serves as a deterrent for possible predators.

Because of this odour, the Bible described the hoopoe as an impure bird.

For the same reason it was also connected with witchcraft and ghosts in mediaeval times.

The hoopoe has a long, decurved bill to do its ‘digging’ or probing in the ground for larvae, worms and termites (even more reason for us to protect and welcome it to our gardens).

Apparently, the tip of the bill is packed with sensory (touch) and olfactory (smell) sensors. The bird’s distinctive call is heard quite regularly during courtship, and, as a prelude to copulation, the male often uses courtship feeding to please and impress the female.

The African Hoopoe occurs throughout Southern Africa up to the equator, while the duller Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops) occurs further north.

About the author:
Based in Windhoek, Pompie Burger is an orthopaedic surgeon whose part-time passion is photography, in particular wildlife, and specifically birds. This regularly takes him to the most remote corners of the country, resulting in riveting images and articles. 
Pompie is the author and photographer of the coffee table book Birds of Namibia, which was published in 2008. The book contains articles and photographs which attest to the insight and knowledge of an accomplished observer.
Read more of his articles in our Birding Section.
This article appeared in the Aug/Sep ‘09 edition of Travel News Namibia.



  1. David Hughes says:

    Clements does not recognise African hoopoe as a separate species. Which authotlrity does please? Thank you

    • Travel News Namibia says:

      Hi David, thank you for your comment. We received this response from the author:
      According to Dr Peter le Suer Milstein, “Recent classification regarded the Hoopoe as a single species. This is a worldwide accepted idea. The most distinctive and richest-coloured population, that is found in the southern half of Africa, has been recognised as a full species, the African Hoepoo. Apart from the rich dark cinnamon colour, they have all-black primaries, but much more extensively white secondaries. no white sub-terminal bar on the crest feathers and a different call”.
      Hope this answers your question. Happy birding!

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