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Mr. Howard Saunders informs me that many years ago a pair of Hoopoes took possession of a hole in a yew tree in the shrubbery of a garden at Leatherhead, and reared their young in safety. He afterwards saw both old and young birds strutting about on the lawn. I have seldom met with this bird in England, and then only on the coast in September, when the beauty of its plumage had become faded, and the feathers ragged, and it was about to emigrate southwards for the winter. But on the continent, and more particularly in France, I have had many opportunities of observing it, and noting its actions and habits. In its movements on the ground it struck me as resembling the Rook more than any other bird I could think of at the time; the same stately tread and gentle nodding of the head, every now and then stopping to pick up something. It does not carry the crest erect, but inclining backwards, and is less sprightly in its movements generally than I had previously supposed. On the wing it at first sight reminds one of a Jay, the principal colours being the same, viz., black, white, and pale cinnamon brown; but the distribution of colour is different, and the flight is not so rapid, and more undulating. The wings are large for the size of the bird, and the firstquill feather being much shorter than the second, the wing has a rounded appearance which makes the flight seem heavier.
It is a shy bird, taking wing on the least alarm, except when surprised by a hawk or other large bird, when, according to the observations of the German naturalists, Naumann and Bechstein, it resorts to a very singular expedient to protect itself. It squats upon the ground, spreads out its tail and wings to their fullest extent, bringing the primaries round so as almost to meet in front, and throws back its head and bill, which it holds up perpendicularly.1 So long as danger threatens, it remains in this
1 For a notice of this singular habit I am indebted to my friend Mr. H. E. Dresser, who has translated Naumann's observations on the subject in his beautiful work on the "Birds of Europe."
odd position, probably to deceive the enemy; for when thus spread out, at a little distance it looks more like an old parti-coloured rag than a living bird.
The Hoopoe lives a good deal on the ground where it finds its chief food, which consists of beetles of various kinds, and their larvae, caterpillars, and ants. It is especially partial to dung-beetles, and may often be seen in search of them upon the roads, where it is also fond of dusting after the manner of a Skylark. But besides picking up a great deal of food from the surface, it also probes beneath the soil where the nature of the ground admits of this, and secures many a worm and lurking grub by means of its long and slender pointed bill. It swallows a beetle or other small morsel just as the Hornbills in the Zoological Society's Gardens swallow the grapes which are thrown to them, that is to say, it seizes it first between the tips of the mandibles, then throwing the head back suddenly, and opening the bill at the same instant, the food is jerked into the gullet with great precision, and disappears. When it seizes a worm, however, the process is somewhat different. It bruises it by beating it against the ground, pinches it all over between the mandibles, and finally swallows it lengthwise with sundry jerks of the head.
In other respects, as well as in the mode of taking their food, the Hoopoes resemble the Hornbills. They build in holes of trees as the latter are known to do, and the hens sit upon the eggs without interruption until they are hatched, the males, as in the case of the Hornbills, bringing food and feeding them from the outside of the hole. The eggs, which are generally five or six in number, are elongated, nearly oval, and of a greenish grey colour. The young when first hatched are naked, but soon get covered with small blue quills from which the feathers sprout. They are unable to stand upright until nearly fledged, but crouch forward and utter a hissing noise. Their crests are soon developed, but their bills do not acquire their full length until the following year.
Lord Lilford states that although the Hoopoe as a rule prefers a hole in an old ash or willow tree for nesting in, he has seen a nest on the ground under a large stone, others in holes on the sunny side of mud or brick walls, one in a fissure of limestone rock, and another in a small cavern.
Dr. Carl Bolle has observed that in the Canaries, where trees are scarce, the Hoopoe breeds in holes of the stone walls and clefts of the rocks.
During his residence in China, where this bird is common, Mr. Swinhoe was surprised to find that it often breeds in the holes of exposed Chinese coffins, whence the natives have a great aversion to them, branding them as "Coffinbirds ;" and the Russian naturalist Pallas once found a nest of the Hoopoe, containing seven young ones nearly ready to fly, in the decomposed abdominal cavity of a dead body!
The note of the Hoopoe is very remarkable, and not to be mistaken for that of any other bird with which I am acquainted. It sounds like