Hoopoe the dirty, ambiguous yet the National bird of Israel & exotic SPY of Biblical King Solomon…

I had seen the admirably beautiful & unique bird on & off as it’s not a common bird in Kodagu. When I saw the exotic variegated bird couple of years ago in the Middle East, I was very curious but not until 2018, I had the privilege to observe it. Hoopoe looks like a dressed up bride in colourful attire & there was something remarkable in its entire being & activity. Even though this member of the fly-catcher species has the flamboyant crown, the hoopoe seems more democratic and its style has been copied by the soldiers of yore, so does the Mohawk hairdo man of today! My 4 and half year old granddaughter Arya says, it looks like dinosaur & named it “Rosy”, & often I use Rosy to make Arya jealous.

I think those were the same pair I had seen in 2017, which makes them monogamous & creature of habits! Its spring like walk, head bobbling back & forth, rhythmic movement of digging is fascinating. It is one of the most hardworking birds I have seen & one day I sat almost 4 hours looking at it probed for the insects, etc with its strong, muscular bill, in the lawn & finally gave up. If they find a larger worm which they cannot easily gulp, these intelligent birds ran with it to a plain surface (like a tile or stone) & killed or immobilized it by pecking with beak, toss it up into the air before catching it in its open beak.

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After one hour when I came to check on it, the bird was still eating with insatiable appetite, perhaps preparing to start a family?

Both the male & female look quite similar, and are migratory birds with distinctive white & black complex pattern of bars & stripes on the back. I could never distinguish between the two. However, Arya used to identify them specifically as Rosy & her mother, because it fed the other! What the little kid saw to differentiate them, I have no idea.

One of the Hoopoe had landed first on the lawn & about 10-days later the other one joined. But once they were together, expression of their love & affection was amazing. Their love affair was so very cute. I guess the female was either pregnant or preparing for pregnancy. Both worked close to each other but interestingly the male dug the land for insects & ate the small ones but once it got a prized catch, it made a distinctive mild grunt & both ran to each other & the catch was consistently placed in the other’s mouth. I managed to catch a part of it in video too. After few days one of them left & the other came religiously & kept digging. In less than a month both vanished… & only a single one appeared some times.

Most species of Birds are noticeably wonderful caring lovers –both as partners as well as parents. On two different occasions, I had the privilege of watching these pair of aquatic birds at Kukkarahalli Lake, where a bird unable to tolerate the absence of its partner & practically making sad tone (cried) till the partner heard him/her & came back. I stood there trying to feel the aura of their pure love, emotion & longing, wondering if I ever meet a human couple so exceptionally bonded together! Divine Love anywhere in any form is the most beautiful thing ever to witness.

Hoopoes are born gifted with a distinctive pale orange Corinthian helmet like crest which appears like a fan, crowned with sub-terminal white/black band to finish. Usually their erectile crest lies backwards like tapered spikes extending from back of their heads but when there is sound or other birds like sparrow or mina, etc., landed nearby, it opened the crest displaying a beautiful circular shape as if going to defensive mode but just calmed immediately.

Not only born, Hoopoe also earned its crown in 2008 beating the close rival, the white-spectacled bulbul when Israel crowned it as their National bird in conjunction with the country’s 60th anniversary out of 540 bird species including the most Zionist bird, dove. It won the contest fair and square with 35% without rigging the votes too!

It’s hard to describe Hoopoe’s colouration, however it beings & ends with black. Their long black beak, slender & curved downward is used like a chisel, seemed like made of the strongest material & when they lifted the head, the beak & the crown gave that long elongated extra ordinary look which is not a common sight. Their eyes looked small, round, brown & their short legs are gray. It seemed brave & unlike other birds movements inside the house through French windows did not deter them.

In between they took a break, guess to sun-bathe, but my logic could not understand why sunbathing when the April temperature of Middle East was 35 degree centigrade & sunny enough!! It is so funny to watch their action, waddle & rush forward in short sallies with an urgency to attend an emergency, suddenly collapse on the ground as if it possessed or had a heart attack, lie flat to the ground, spread their tail & wings, & pointing their break upward seemingly communicating with someone in heaven! (see picture) Sadly, evacuated the ground with similar urgency even before I could analyze their posture. When I saw the action first time, I thought the bird had died… hahaahha.

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Hailing from family Upupidae, commonly known as Chandra-mukuta in Kannada*, duchifat in Hebrew, Hoopoe (English), it is also known as the Upupa epops (Latin), hudhud (Arabic), Huppe (French meaning crest or tuft), etc. The Latin & English names supposed to come from its sound/cry but I never really heard it properly in 3-weeks inspite of watching it every morning. (It is noteworthy that *Chandra-mukuta, the one found in South India, has only black feather to finish & the plumage of the whole bird is brighter.  Not sure if because of the heat or to blend with the sand).

I was very curious to learn more about it… but once I started… its life sounds bizarre, more controversial than the confused Indian politicians.. Multifaceted view of the same innocent bird symbolizing the perplexed human minds! I have no idea if it is the translation or narration within Google uncle’s inconclusive domain! Moreover, in general surprisingly there are some similarities between the Middle Eastern legends & Indian legends, like ability to understand/speak in bird language, the riddles of Dhritarashtra & the illusion of palace with glass floor… the incident which became the cause of the Mahabharata war, etc.

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