A Hoopoe in your garden
African Hoopoe – Upupa africana (Afrikaans: Hoephoep)
The African Hoopoe is a well-known resident all over Southern Africa except the very dry parts of the Karoo and southern Namibia. There is some evidence that these birds migrate within the broader area after the breeding season, which lasts from August to February, with a peak in September to November. They are very fond of gardens, specially if there is a fair-sized lawn, and may become very tame. They spend most of their time on the ground, solitary or in pairs, probing for worms and caterpillars.
The Hoopoe is about 28 centimetres in length, mainly brick-red with black and white barring, a beautiful crest, which is fanned out most of the time, and a long beak, slightly decurved.
The Hoopoe nests in holes in trees, in piles of rocks or bricks, sometime even down a hole in the ground, or under the foundations of a building. I saw one nest in the loft of a farmhouse, just on the wall where the roof was attached, and another in a drain pipe on the ground.
If you should see a hoopoe on your lawn at any time, try and get hold of a hollow log about 25 centimetres diameter, plug the opening on top, then drill a hole about 7 cm across on the side. Make sure the bottom won’t fall out, then attach the log to a line or corner post, or wall about one or two metres above the ground. Put a layer of leafmould in the bottom, stand back and watch for results.
Soon there will be a clutch of 4–7 pale blue eggs, which soon become soiled. But be warned – once the chicks have hatched, make very sure that you do not get your eye near the hole because the chicks even at an early stage will turn their business ends up and squirt you in the eye with a special mixture which is produced under stress from glands near the outlet. This is a yellow brown liquid which leaves a highly persistent stain.
Once you have a working nest hole, the birds will return every year for many years, and often there will always be new customers. Hoopoes are great fun to watch – enjoy them!
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