7 African Hoopoe Bird Facts – Stinky Yet Beautiful

The African Hoopoe bird is one of the most unforgettable birds to spot on a Safari in the African Savannah, one of the Hoopoe Birds facts is that it is quite stinky, yet beautiful 🙂

Their name comes from their distinctive “hoo-poo” call, which is sung in a cycle of three to five repetitions, a sound you are very unlikely to forget or get mixed up with any other bird.

They are unmistakable and quite beautiful birds but are known to have dirty and stinking nests, and they produce secretions that increase their odour.

Hoopoes have a somewhat great relationship with people and are even known to symbolise kingship and wisdom.

Let us get to know them better and find out why people regard them so.

Updated 01/12/23

Let’s Start With A Description Of The African Hoopoe Bird


The African Hoopoe birds have a chestnut-coloured crest on the head, with black tips, no eye rings or eye Stripes and most of the body has a rich chestnut colour.

Both genders have black and white stripes on the wings and tail feathers, which lead to a V-pattern on the back.

The belly, lower abdomen and under tail coverts are white, while the eyes range from black to brown, and the legs and feet are dark brown.

The males have a fuller, richer chestnut colouration in comparison to the females which have greyer and darker chestnut colouration.

Juvenile African Hoopoes look similar to dull-coloured adult females, but they have shorter beaks.

Physical Characteristics.

The bird stands at 25-29 cm (9.8-11.4 in.), has a wingspan of 44-48 cm (17.3-18.8 in.), and weighs an average of 65 g (2.29 oz.) when fully grown.

The crest on the head is conspicuous and may be in two forms depending on the situation; when the bird is at rest the crest is held straight back, but when the bird is excited or alarmed it opens up into a beautiful circular shape.

The beak is a very important feature of the African Hoopoe bird and is long, slender and curved slightly downwards.

This beak is used to forage on the ground for food, feed their chicks and as a weapon when the bird is aggressively defending its territory.

The wings are broad and rounded and the tail is square in shape.

In flight, they flap their wings at a rate of 4 to 5 beats followed by a pause in which you’ll notice the body drop before continuing with the wing beat at the same rate.

Are you thinking about buying binoculars to have a good look at all the magnificent birds of Africa?

The sounds of the African Hoopoe bird

Their most distinctive call is the “hoo-poo” which is usually repeated after a pause and is mainly heard from the males during mating season as an advertisement of their territory and what he has to offer.

Are you thinking about buying binoculars to have a good look at all the magnificent birds of Africa?

The Hoopoe Birds’ Behaviour

1. Filthy Nests!

The African Hoopoe is a solitary bird but will form monogamous relationships that last until each breeding season is over.

Now, this is usually quite a stressful period for the males as they are in charge of finding a good nest, which to make matters worse isn’t made up of leaves, twigs and feathers high up in the safety of a tree, but rather in abandoned termite mounds, ground holes, in tree trunks or even under houses.

The good thing is once a good nesting hole is found it is reused for several years.

One thing these birds are known for is the filthiness of their nests.

To make matters worse, the bad themselves secrete a foul-smelling odour from their oil glands, which contributes to the nest’s overall outlook of smelling bad, and full of unclean droppings.

2. How do they breed?

Females will lay about 4-7 bluish eggs, and incubation takes about 14-20 days.

During this period and even after the chicks hatch it is the work of the male to provide food, but a week after hatching the female also helps in this demanding job.

The breeding season usually runs from August to February peaking in September and November.

3. Feeding and Diet

Their diet includes insects, small reptiles, small snakes and slugs. Occasionally they will eat seeds and berries, but will rather have insects if they can.

They use their long beaks to forage beneath the soil for prey, but will also pick off flying insects.

If an insect is too big, well they bash it on the ground to break it up or even remove legs and wings before swallowing the rest.

Their diet of mainly insects is why humans love them so, as they help in getting rid of many parasitic insects both in the homes and farms.

Predators of the African Hoopoe bird.

The main predatory threats to this bird come from raptor species such as eagles and hawks.

They have some techniques for keeping alive when being hunted; they will lie flat on their back on the ground, spread their wings and tail and point their beaks straight upwards (acting dead is a good survival mechanism).

Or they will soar very high, and very fast flying in an erratic fashion to try and escape a raptor, and if they have to fight for their lives, well that beak comes really handy in close proximity situations.

Are you thinking about buying binoculars to have a good look at all the magnificent birds of Africa?

Distribution And Habitat of the African Hoopoe bird.

The African Hoopoe can be found in open savannahs, and broadleaf forests, and unlike its European and Asian cousins, it does not migrate but only travels short distances.

They also habit thorny bushes, riverine woodlands, and in urban areas.

In Africa, they are distributed across Southern Africa from the D.R.C. Southwards.

They are in D.R.C., Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland.

FAQS about the African Hoopoe Bird

In this final section, we dive into the most FAQs that people tend to ask about this bird species.

What is special about the hoopoe?

The most distinctive thing about the African Hoopoe is its crest that depending on the situation will be either laid back or erect.

Is the African Hoopoe a woodpecker?

Although they may look similar, the African Hoopoe and the woodpecker belong to different orders.

African Hoopoes belong to the order, Bucerotiformes, while woodpeckers belong to the order, Piciformes, making them distantly related to each other.

Do African Hoopoes migrate?

The African Hoopoe, unlike its Eurasian cousin, is a resident of the area it inhabits, thus they are not migratory but only make short-distance flights.

What does the African Hoopoe symbolize?

Due to its crown-like crest, the Hoopoe in general has been a king of birds or leader.

It is seen in some religious texts and has always been thought of as wise, protective and sacred.

It was thought to be the close confidant of King Solomon and was one of his favourite birds according to some religious texts.

Are Hoopoes friendly?

Hoopoes are generally solitary and independent birds that are wild and don’t usually interact with humans. In some places, they nest in crevices near or on houses, and even though they help clear the area of nuisance bugs, those nests stink a lot

Why is the Hoopoe considered unclean?

Hoopoes are known for their foul smells. This smell can be used as a form of protection against predators.

The females produce foul-smelling secretions from special glands, which are coated on the chick’s plumage.

This helps keep predators and parasites away from the chicks and also has antibacterial properties.

Later on, when the chicks get older they deter predators by shooting faeces on their faces. The nests are also kept purposely dirty using excreta, to deter and ward off predators.

What’s the difference between the African and European Hoopoe?

While the general appearance of the African and European hoopoes is similar, there can be some subtle differences between the two populations.

  1. Distribution:
    • African Hoopoe: Found in various parts of Africa, including sub-Saharan Africa.
    • European Hoopoe: Found in Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
  2. Coloration:
    • The overall coloration of the two populations is quite similar. Hoopoes are known for their striking plumage, which includes a combination of pinkish-brown, black, and white feathers.
    • There may be slight regional variations in color, but it’s challenging to distinguish African and European hoopoes based solely on color.
  3. Migration:
    • Some European hoopoes are known to be migratory, flying to warmer regions during the winter. The extent of migration can vary among individual populations.

It’s important to note that within each population (African and European), there can be further regional variations and subspecies.

Are you thinking about buying binoculars to have a good look at all the magnificent birds of Africa?

My Final Conclusion.

I hope that you enjoyed this blog post on the stinky African Hoopoe bird 😉

If you have any more questions though, feel free to ask them in the comment section below or join me on my social media channels or Facebook group. I hope to meet you there!

I wish you happy travels/birdwatching!

Kind regards,


I now have a YouTube channel as well!


4 thoughts on “7 African Hoopoe Bird Facts – Stinky Yet Beautiful”

  1. Greetings, fellow bird lovers! I just came across this post about the African Hoopoe bird on Africa Fevers, and I have to say, I’m completely in awe of these fascinating creatures.

    Let’s start with the fact that they are stinky, yet beautiful. I mean, how often do you come across a bird that’s both smelly and gorgeous at the same time? It’s truly a unique combination, and I find it endearing in its own strange way.

    I’ve always been a fan of birds and their incredible beauty, but the African Hoopoe bird takes it to a whole new level. With its distinctive crest and stunning colors, it’s a bird that truly stands out in a crowd. And the fact that it can be found all over Africa just adds to its allure.

    One thing I love about the African Hoopoe bird is its versatility. It can be found in a variety of habitats, from deserts to forests, and it’s able to adapt to its surroundings with ease. I also love how it uses its stinky secretions to deter predators, which is just another example of how these birds are able to survive and thrive in their environment.

    As for my personal experience with the African Hoopoe bird, I have to admit that I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing one in the wild yet. But I’m definitely adding it to my bucket list of birds to see. I’ve always been fascinated by their unique beauty and I can’t wait to see one for myself.

    So, there you have it, folks. My thoughts on the African Hoopoe bird. I hope this post has inspired you to learn more about these fascinating creatures. If any of you have had the chance to see an African Hoopoe bird in the wild, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

    • Hi Bob!

      What a poët you are haha, thank you so much for all of this, I really do appreciate your thoughts and comment!

      I hope that you will see the Hoopoe bird one day soon!

      Kind regards,


  2. Very interesting reading.  Looking out of my French doors in my family room, I saw a couple of cardinals playing, flying from one tree branch to another.  Cardinals are beautiful red birds.  I can only imagine what kind of beautiful birds you can find in Africa.  Thanks for sharing the article about the hoopoe bird which is definitely a beautiful bird, and probably is most enjoyable at a distance due to its disgusting, foul smell (lol).  

    • Hi Faye, thank you for the positive comment and I wish you lots of fun with the birdwatching and smelly bird haha

      Kind regards,



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