Shy yet beautiful

Watch out for these exotically colourful birds in Bangalore

Published - August 24, 2014 07:34 pm IST - Bangalore

Call of the wild The colourful Hoopoe Photo: Chandrakantha Urusu

Call of the wild The colourful Hoopoe Photo: Chandrakantha Urusu

If you are out enjoying a Sunday morning picnic in the large parks and grassy areas of Bangalore, you are bound to see a flash of striking zebra black and white stripes on a beautiful cinnamon coloured bird.

These are the Hoopoes ( Upupaepops ) and are very exotically coloured, with striped black and white wings, a rich chestnut body plumage and a long black down-curved bill. The bird has a long pinkish-brown crest which is raised when excited.

As kids, we were particularly fascinated by its head, topped by a prominent, erectile crest. Hoopoes are not very large birds and are around 12 inches, including the tail. They primarily use their long, slender, curved bills to probe for large insects, worms, and lizards in the ground. Sometimes, the hoopoe feeds while airborne, where one can observe its characteristic undulating and erratic flight, like a wayward butterfly.

Chandrakantha Ursu, who is a specialist at the Delphi Automotive Systems and lives in Channasandra, near Whitefield, says: “Kannada literature has a honourable name for the Hoopoe ‘Chandra Mukuta’ due to its crest. The Hoopoe reminds me of my childhood days, spent in my family village of Malagalu, which is 65 km from Bangalore. The village had many houses constructed using mud (not bricks). We would often be surprised by the hissing sound of a hoopoe from the holes in these houses.”

He adds that unlike other birds, the hoopoes keep their nests dirty with a lot of excreta to ward off predators. That is why today in his village, their nest holes in the hut walls are being sealed off with cement.

Hoopoes are excellent runners and they like warm, dry areas, which are at least partially open. They build their nests in a tree cavity or a rock crevice. The female lays and incubates four to six pale blue to olive-coloured eggs per clutch and is fed during incubation by her mate. Like most birds, both sexes care for the naked, helpless young.

In addition to its beautiful plumage, the hoopoe is also noted for its foul-smelling nest. The toxic smell comes from a combination of putrefying excrement and from defensive musty-smelling secretions released from the preen gland of the female when she is disturbed.

Seshadri K. S., a graduate student from the Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation Lab, Department of Biological Sciences recalls: “I had seen a hoopoe in my bird book as a little kid. Seeing the folded crest, I used to think it had two beaks. Only when I saw the bird after picking up bird watching as a hobby did I realise it was the crest and not the beak that I had seen in the illustration. I have seen this beautiful bird many times since I first saw it in an old temple in Hassan.”

Interestingly, the striking hoopoe is colourful in more ways than one: Both the common name and the scientific name, hoopoe ( Upupa epops ) mimic the birds’ rather dovelike call. Besides being the national bird of Israel, hoopoes are part of Egyptian and Greek folklore. And in the stories of the biblical King Solomon, the bird carried messages to him from the Queen of Sheba.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.