Is the hoopoe a foul fowl?
The scientific name of Israel's new national bird, which was announced last night, gives a hint: Upupa epops.
With considerable fanfare, the hoopoe was dubbed the country's latest new symbol after a popularity contest. Yet some commentators questioned the choice of a non-Kosher feathered friend, known in Hebrew as the Duchifat. (Doves or hawks were not vote-winners.)
The hoopoe diet of bugs and worms may have been among the reasons it makes the Old Testament's list of unclean birds and raptors (see Leviticus 11:19 and Deuteronomy 14:18).
The flashy Hoopoe sports an erect crest like a mohawk and is known for erratic flight. It strides on the ground, and calls, rather than sings: "oop-oop-oop". Like many Israelis, hoopoes flit about from country to country, although there are many full-time resident in the Holy Land. (Facts on the Ground?)
These birds tend to hole up in a tree or wall in fetid-smelling quarters which discourage predators. Nesting hoopoes are capable of squirting fecal matter at intruders. (Shit happens)
The Hoopoe is associated with King Solomon,(in Arabic, known as the Prophet Suleyman). Folklore says he told the bird about the Queen of Sheba's excesses and the magnificence of her kingdom. Quran 27:20-28.
Also-rans in the national contest were the goldfinch and the warbler. The red falcon, biblical vulture, the spur-winged plover, the honey-sucker, the white-chested kingfisher, and the white barn owl were all in the running. Early favorites included ordinary garden birds such as the babbler or (bul-bul), or the Palestine sun-bird, pictured below, which would obviously have needed a new sobriquet. Sumerian sunbird out, Hebrew Hoopoe in. (Israel is a main crossroads for birds migrating between Europe and Africa, so there was a vast choice. Only 155,000 out of 7 million Israelis cast ballots for the national bird vote.)