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General information on Hoopoe
 

Appearance

Hoopoe is slightly smaller than Feral Pigeon. The colour of Hoopoe’s body is rufous-buff. Wings and tail black with white stripes. Bill long and slightly decurved. The most striking feature of Hoopoe is its crest which consists of rufous feathers with black tips. The crest is usually compressed but it is raised after landing or when the bird is excited.

Song

Song is produced only by Hoopoe males. It is quite simple and usually consists of three repeated trisyllabic phrases “oop-oop-oop”. One phrase can consist of two to five syllables. Rarely also monosyllabic phrases are produced. Hoopoe males start singing immediately after arriving at breeding sites in the end of April. The period of active singing continues until the end of June. Hoopoe males sing from elevated perches: tree-tops, poles, roofs of buildings etc. When singing Hoopoe male inclines its head inflating the neck. Hoopoe singing activity reaches its peak in mornings a few hours after sunrise.

Distribution

The breeding range of Hoopoes stretches from SW Europe and NW Africa to the east across W Asia, Arabia, Sri Lanka to Sumatra, from Baltic See to Baikal region in the north, in Africa south of Sahara and in Madagascar.

Until 19th century Hoopoe was a common breeding species throughout central Europe and bred regularly in Denmark and southern Sweden. The northern border of its breeding range moving to the south Hoopoe has disappeared from these countries and also Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and most of Germany.

Although Hoopoe is distributed across whole Latvia, its distribution is sparse and uneven. The highest density of Hoopoe population is in the district of Riga.

Population

Global population of Hoopoes is estimated at 5–10 million individuals. 890,000–1,700,000 pairs of Hoopoes breed in Europe. Iberian Peninsula has the highest Hoopoe population density in Europe. Latvia lies very close to the northern border of Hoopoe breeding range, therefore the population density of Hoopoes in Latvia is much lower. Hoopoe population size of Latvia is estimated at 160–250 breeding pairs. To the north from Latvia Hoopoes breed only in Estonia. 20–50 pairs of Hoopoes breed in Estonia but 200–500 in Lithuania.

It is believed that global Hoopoe population is declining since the middle of 19th century with a short comeback in 1950s. The decline is faster in the periphery of Hoopoe breeding range. Although recent studies do not show a decline of the Hoopoe population in Latvia during the last decades, attention should be paid to possible fluctuations of population size in the future.

Food and Habitat Choice

The diet of Hoopoe consists almost entirely of animal food, mainly large insects, their larvae and pupae. Hoopoe usually forages on the ground and pulls its prey from soil with his long, decurved bill. Often seeks prey also in animal droppings and sometimes also on carrion. In exceptional captures slow-flying insects in flight. Often favours mole-crickets Gryllotalpa and cockchafer Melolontha (adults and larvae). Other food items include various insects, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, woodlice, snails and slugs and also small vertebrates: lizards, frogs and toads. Rarely feeds on parts of plants.

Habitat choice of Hoopoe is closely related to its feeding behaviour. Hoopoe prefers open landscapes with little or no vegetation. Thus Hoopoe breeds in farmland, parks, graveyards, gardens etc. One of the most important breeding habitats for Hoopoes in Latvia is seasonal villages.

Breeding

The nest of Hoopoe can be situated in a hole in a tree, building or rocks, also in ruins. Hoopoes frequently occupy nest-boxes and sometimes they breed also in holes in the ground. Little or no nest material is used. In Latvia Hoopoes start laying eggs in May and their clutch consists of 7–8 eggs. The colour and shape of eggs is very variable. The colour varies from light grey or greenish-grey to brown. Hoopoes rear one brood but in some cases there can be two or even three broods. Only the female incubates, starting with the first or the second egg. The period of incubation is 15–18 days. Chicks hatch with the same intervals as the eggs have been laid. They fledge in 26–29 days. Often the youngest chicks starve, if feeding conditions are not optimal.