The Hoopoe

As a part of its 60th Anniversary as a nation, Israel recently chose a national bird. A committee selected 10 possibilities and a nation-wide popular vote was held. 150,000 votes were cast, including about 25% by school children. The winner, with 35% of the vote, is the Hoopoe. A goldfinch and a warbler were the runners-up. Israeli political leaders got in the act too. President Shimon Peres urged his fellow citizens to vote for the dove. (He probably would have preferred the Bearded Vulture [Peres, in Hebrew] from which he took his name but it no longer is found in Israel.) Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak was in favor of the Lesser Kestrel. But politicians have only so much influence: The Hoopoe won the election.

It wasn’t an easy choice. Israel sits beneath one of the world’s major avian migration routes. Estimates are that 540 species pass through and over twice a year, numbering more than 500 million birds. The Hoopoe, though, nests in Israeli; the only requirement for the initial list which was later winnowed by Israeli ornithologists to the ten voted on by the nation.

The Hoopoe, whose binomial name is Upupa epops, is named after its “oop-oop-oop” call. Closely related to kingfishers and bee-eaters, it lives in Africa, Asia, and Europe as well as the Middle East. One of its more interesting — or less, if you are close to its nest — evolutionary adaptations against predators is its particularly foul smelling feces which it is capable of squirting at intruders. Believed to be monogamous, the Hoopoe nests in pre-existing holes in trees, cliffs, and buildings.

For a fanciful story on the election read this New Republic story.

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