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Hoopoe, Israel, and that Dickcissel again

July 29, 2013

Illuminating Birders! I’ve been blessed with a number of brilliant birding pals (and blog readers!), but this weekend, they outdid themselves. A while ago, I related my encounter with the wondrous Hoopoe (Upupa epops) at Donana national park in Spain. While marveling at its majestic and otherworldly crest, I innocently compared its spectacular physique to Queen Elizabeth I’s regal attire, but delved no further into Hoopoe-related lore. This weekend, Rick Wright pointed my attention to the fact that the Hoopoe is Israel’s national bird, and Meera Lee Sethi further noted that the bird also appears in the Tanakh. (In Deuteronomy 14:18, the hoopoe is listed among the birds that strictly forbidden since they are not kosher. Included in the vast list are also pelicans, owl, gull, storks, magpies, cormorants and herons, and bats, in case you were curious.)

And so, I did a little googling of my own. As it happens, Israel crowned the Hoopoe as its National Bird in May 2008, after a grueling six-month contest wherein it beat out nine other contenders (including a warbler and a goldfinch) with 35% of the popular vote. According to Dr. Uzi Paz, head of Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority, the Hoopoe “is not a songbird, but chirps when it wants to take over territory. There is no external difference between male and females.” Can you imagine? Even female hoopoes are allowed as exquisite a plumage as males! A bird that instinctively believes in equality between the sexes.

The LA Times’ Babylon & Beyond Blog had illuminating insight about the bird’s history: “The hoopoe, with its distinctive crest, is no newcomer to the land. It was mentioned in the Bible, its name is derived from Aramaic and it is said to have carried King Solomon’s invitation to the Queen of Sheba across the ancient lands. Appropriately, Ethiopian Jewry called it the Moses bird, hoping it would lead them to Zion.”

Amazingly, King Solomon and the Hoopoe had no problem communicating. Since King Solomon was the wisest man in the universe (such as it was), he ruled over everything, which included people and all the animals (and birds!) that existed. He even knew all their languages!

Not only is the hoopoe the national bird of the land of my ancestors, not only does it remind me of my favorite monarch, but its identity as a letter-carrier responsible for the crucial back and forth that went on between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba also might explain my curious fixation with the postal service. There are some days when everything miraculously comes together.

Photo from here.

Photo from here.

Would that I had King Solomon’s linguistic prowess to communicate with the Hoopoe! I have more than a few genealogical questions for this glam avian phenomenon. (If you look very closely at her facial features, you might notice a slight resemblance to me. But I’m willing to admit that could just be wishful thinking.) Hm… a trip to Israel might be in order soon.

And, in what will hopefully be my last mention of the Dickcissel for a while, I wrote about him over at Ontario Nature.

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