Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Hoopoe

Austria, 2008
The hoopoe

Unless you live in Europe, Asia, or Africa, it is very unlikely that you have ever seen a hoopoe (pronounced hoo'-poo or sometimes hoo'-poh). Austria Post has made the bird more readily available to those outside of its native range with a recently issued set of two stamps advocating environmental protection. One of the stamps in that set depicts the hoopoe.

The hoopoe has quite a unique look. With its distinctive coloration, a fan-like crest atop its head, and a mouth dominated by a long, slightly down-curved beak, the hoopoe is instantly recognizable.

Even its call is quite recognizable as a three syllable oop-oop-oop. The "oo" sound in its call has led to its name of hoopoe and well as its scientific name of Upupa epops (pronounced oo-poo'-pa ee'-pops).

The magnificent crest as shown on the Austrian stamp is not usually upright unless the bird is alarmed or otherwise excited. Normally, the crest lays down nearly flat and the plumage that is upright when the bird is alarmed will protrude rearward.

When the hoopoe flies, its flight is not always direct and it will sometimes flit to and fro. This flight is not as carefree as one might think, as hoopoes are able to avoid trained falcons who chase after them.

Humans have been in contact with the hoopoe for a long time, and the bird has even been identified in several religious texts. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, for example, the hoopoe is listed among the birds, such as eagle, the great owl, and the vulture that are not to be eaten.

Even though the bird is not kosher for Jewish food, it is well known in Israel. In late May, 2008, in a contest to pick the Israeli national bird, the hoopoe won with a majority of votes.

Austria Post released this stamp, as well as one showing the bee hawk-moth, part of its environmental protection stamps, on June 13, 2008. Each stamp has a face value of 0.75 EUR (about $1.18 US). The stamps can be purchased from Austria Post at http://www.post.at.

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