At the end of July an extraordinary event occurred at Ramat Hanadiv's Memorial Gardens - but not many people noticed. Three young and slightly confused hoopoe (in Hebrew, dukhifat) birds were found hopping about the lawns, searching for juicy worms and totally undaunted by the staring people around them.
This hoopoe tale had actually begun a few weeks earlier when a good, animal-loving citizen discovered the abandoned chicks in a state of dire exhaustion. He brought them to the hospital for wild animals, jointly operated by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Safari in Ramat Gan. Under the fine care of the hospital, the young birds quickly recovered and grew stronger, and soon the day arrived when they were ready to resume life in the great out-of-doors. Ramat Hanadiv was chosen as the most suitable place for them to adjust to their new life style.
In fact, the hoopoe is no stranger to Israel: it was declared the national bird in the 1960s. The hoopoe's long beak (about 5 cm., or 2 inches) makes it easy for it to peck into grassy areas and harvest a meal; its favorite menu features worms, arthropods, moths, and similar creatures. The hoopoe lives and nests in temperate climes (central Europe and Asia), migrating to warmer regions in Africa for the winter. A few decades ago, mostly in the 1950s and '60s, a few hoopoes began nesting in Israel, too.
Ornithologists agree that it was probably the development of agricultural land and domestic gardens and lawns that attracted the hoopoes, and they stayed on to enjoy Israeli hospitality. Today they are among the birds most commonly seen in our land.
There are several different theories about the source of the odd name 'dukhifat'. It is used in a variety of languages, among them ancient Egyptian, at least one Indian language, and Kurdish, where it's related to the 'fringe' (or domed 'cap') that adorns the hoopoe's head. In Hebrew, the name may be derived from the term 'double-capped' (du-khipa). In Arabic, it's called houd-houd, apparently because of the sounds it makes. The fringe on top of its head serves as a means of communication between hoopoes: the way it moves conveys a message of danger or courtship.
According to Jewish legend, the bird held a place of honour in King Solomon's court. However, the Old Testament lists the hoopoe as one of the non-kosher birds which may not be eaten by Jews: '...the stork, herons of all kinds, and the dukhifat' (Leviticus 11:19).
Hoopoes generally build their nests in March on rooftops or in the hollows of trees not far from the ground, making them easy prey, especially for cats. The birds have a neat solution to this problem: a greasy, smelly gland that emits a terrible stench when there is danger in the area. The smell successfully repels predators and, most of the time, saves the lives of the nestlings.
Before the young hoopoes were released into nature in the Memorial Gardens, they were banded with identification rings. In the following days, Amir Arnon, head of the Wildlife Department at Ramat Hanadiv, checked their condition and helped feed them. A month later, the birds are still in the gardens, already fending for themselves and not in need of extra meals. Though visitors can enjoy their presence, it's hard now to tell the newcomers from the old-timers: only the rings attached to their legs give away the identity of the three young 'immigrants'.
We wish the young hoopoes a long and happy life at Ramat Hanadiv!
The InfoShop at Ramat Hanadiv: 04-639 8111