Legends related to Mrs. & Mr. Hoopoe…

According to Middle Eastern legend, Mr. Hoopoe was an explorer, spy & personal messenger of none other than the wise King Solomon himself. The story in brief out of many goes that, Hoopoe was sent on one of the many months long mission to spread the message of King Solomon & to gather intle on his rivals. No wonder though elusive, Mossad is one of the best spy agencies in the world! Somehow Mr. Hoopoe was delayed with his mission & was late to reach King Solomon’s bird consortium. King Solomon said to have reviewed the birds & said: why do I not see the hoopoe, or is he of those absent? I shall surely punish him severely or slay him, or he must come to me with a clear excuse.

Mr. Hoopoe was not long in coming & it said, I have found out what you have not apprehended & I come to you from Sheba with tidings. The bird reported that Sheba was ruled by a powerful & wealthy queen Bilquis/Makeda who had a magnificent throne. But they worshipped the Sun, which disturbed King Solomon. (Queen of Sheba’s tale appears in Jewish, Islamic & Ethiopian legends with slight variations). King Solomon sent the hoopoe back to the Queen with a letter, inviting her & her people to the worship of the one true God he believed in.

Queen sent him all the ships of the sea loaded with precious gifts & 6000 youths of equal size, all born at the same hour & clothed in purple garments. They carried a letter declaring that she could arrive in Jerusalem within three years although the journey normally took seven year (wonder where was she traveling from? Probably from China or India? distance from Jerusalem to Egypt around 800 kilometers & to Ethiopia around 4,200 kms).

Finally Queen of Sheba visits him at Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, very much gold & precious stones to test his wisdom with array of riddles. When she arrived to Solomon’s palace, thinking that the glass floor was a pool of water, she lifted the hem of her dress, uncovering her legs. Solomon informed her of her mistake & reprimanded her for her hairy legs. {This as well as stealing the throne and his treatment of birds sounds really odd considering the belief that King Solomon was very wise, rich and was close to none other than his God thyself.}

She asked him her riddles & he answered them wisely. Meantime Solomon had managed to steal her beautiful throne with the help of a wise man & tells her it’s a replica when he shows it to her.

Later Queen of Sheba also gives birth to a baby boy. The boy Menelik I (meaning son of the wise) is the first Solomonic Emperor of Ethiopia, who ruled 950 BC). Ultimately, Queen of Sheba renounced idolatry & joined Solomon in worshiping God.

Further the story of Hoopoe earning of crown goes… once King Solomon was travelling in the heat of the sun and called upon the vultures to shield him from its fierce rays. But the vultures were too busy to come to his rescue. Angered by this King Solomon cursed them & as the result God removed their feathers baring their neck. As King Solomon moved further, the sun got fiercer & sighting a flock of hoopoes along with their king, he called on them to shield him. Which they obliged & escorted the king & his entourage till the sunset. Pleased Solomon offered a reward which the King Hoopoe declined at first as they were merely doing their duty. But upon King Solomon’s insistence, went to consult the queen Hoopoe and as per her wish asked for the crown so that they could look very beautiful.

As a result they were gifted with pure gold crowns with an option to take it back if they did not like it. Though looked magnificent, it came with a price as bird catchers started catching them for their valuable gold. With the heavy gold on their head slowing them down, they were easy prey too.. So King Hoopoe went to King Solomon requesting him to remove it. Wise king Solomon realizing that the bird catchers (humans) were after only gold, he made it into feathers. Anyways the beautiful Hoopoe finally succeeded in its mission & carries the crown forward, still hiding it most of the times.

Anyways… Considered wise & beautiful, yet a ceremonially unclean bird & scrappy, but the pro & cons of its hygiene & repulsive foul-smell creating habits particularly during the breeding season has baffled the scientists. In Leviticus 11:13-19, the hoopoe is among several creatures described as detestable, abhorrent and not to be eaten. Some consider it as a positive cultural symbol, while some consider it to symbolize murder and death and some consider it stupid. Interestingly this biblical bird, part of the Middle Eastern, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Greek, etc., folklores had been a friend/emissary/messenger for none other than wise King Solomon himself to Queen of Sheba!

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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.