Not too many days ago, I saw a hoopoe — actually, three of them — for the first time since moving to France nearly nine years ago.
I can just imagine you asking: And what is a hoopoe, pray tell? Well, it’s a bird that’s evidently not easy to spot, and is quite an unusual little beast.
Funnily enough, my wife Jan actually remembered learning about the bird from our good friend Darlene, who is a frequent visitor to France from her home in Toronto. Darlene recently told me she had seen a hoopoe (huppe in French) just once, in the Bergerac area.
With no further ado, here’s a look at the hoopoe, in a photo I was able to access on the Internet:
My sighting occurred as I drove slowly into the déchetterie (the series of bins where we take our garbage and recycling) near Daglan’s municipal rugby field.
I spotted three birds pecking at the ground in front of the garbage bins, and first thought they were mourning doves, because their plumage featured some of that lovely soft beige colour. Then I realized that they were smaller than doves and had very long beaks, like the shore birds I used to see on the beach in Florida, where I grew up. Finally, I saw that there was something emerging from the backs of their heads.
I crept my car forward, hoping to get as close as possible to take a photo. But when I opened my car door, as slowly and quietly as possible, they flew off.
Later I described my sighting to a local friend, Laura, who said the bird was most likely the hoopoe, and that they often fly to France from Africa at this time of the year, as the African weather becomes too hot.
Eventually I got around to some Internet research, and learned that there are three separate species of the hoopoe — the Eurasian, the Madagascan, and the African — and nine sub-species. Apparently they spend winters in central and eastern Africa. Finally, I learned to my surprise that the hoopoe is the national bird of Israel. Go figure!
Finally, here’s another photo from the Internet, showing how that little clump of feathers on their heads can open out:
I suppose that many people consider this an attractive bird, but I can’t say it’s in my top 10. In fact, it reminds me a bit of that old adage that “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.”