One morning at Montepozzo, Michael spied an unusual bird in the garden. No-one else saw it so, of course, we didn’t believe him. The next day, he was sure to capture it on film, although the elusive creature seemed to be camera shy.
Our hosts informed us it was a Eurasian hoopoe, formally known by the adorable title Upupa epops. On further investigation, I have discovered some extraordinary facts about this little bird. Not only does it have a long, tapered bill for probing the ground in search of such delicacies as insects and small reptiles, the strong muscles of the head allow it to open its bill while inside the soil. If that fails, they will dig out the prey with their feet and beat larger victims against the ground or a stone to kill them and remove indigestible body parts before consuming.
Hoopoes nest in the cavities of vertical surfaces such as trees, cliffs and walls and have developed an effective deterrent to predators. Incubating and brooding females convert the oil from their preening gland into a foul smelling concoction with the aroma of rotting meat. Rubbing it into her plumage and that of the nestlings apparently does the trick. However, should that tactic fail, the young ones can direct streams of faeces at intruders, hiss like a snake and strike with their bill or a wing. I still think they are cute.