One of our most welcome guests each year is an engagingly daffy little bird that arrives from Africa around mid-April and then quietly slips back to warmer climes once summer starts winding down.
Unlike the golden eagles, buzzards and red kites that glide down from the Majella to patrol the skies above us in search of prey; or the amazingly agile Alpine Swifts that treat our swimming pool as their own private watering hole, the Hoopoe is a bird you might not see that often as it rummages around at ground level in search of food – but it’s one you can’t fail to hear.
The call is unmistakable. An oop oop oop that cuts through other bird chatter. I’ve actually struck up conversations with a Hoopoe, oop oop oop’ing back until it decides that I’m not up to its intellectual level; know nothing about worms or anything else remotely interesting and cuts the discussion short.
And aside from the call, there can’t be too many birds that are as instantly recognisable. About the size of a pigeon with a long, curved beak perfect for probing around for grubs and bugs; a front-half the colour of milky coffee and an incongruously zebra-striped rear end, the Hoopoe’s literal crowning glory is a wild, punky crest that’s flicked up-and-down like some manic birdy semaphore.
Rounding off this delightful package is the Hoopoe’s species name.
Seriously, you’d need a heart of granite not to be charmed by anything called Upupa Epops – but especially a bird so endearing that if it didn’t already exist, Disney would have to invent it.
I could add that the Hoopoe is the National Bird of Israel; was considered sacred in Ancient Egypt; and – oddly – regarded as a harbinger of war and death in Scandinavia. Thank you Wikipedia.
In this corner of Abruzzo though, oop oop oop means nothing more profound than reminding you summer’s just around the corner.
Works for me…