The Hoopoe: National Bird of Israel

The Eurasian Hoopoe or Common hoopoe (Upupa epops) bird chicks prepares to fly out of the hole-nest
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Written by Cindy Rasmussen

Published: January 23, 2023

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Israel is a Middle Eastern country located between Egypt and Jordan. The Mediterranean Sea is to the west and the southern tip of Israel is on the Red Sea. You may be surprised to discover that Israel has a mix of habitats including mountains, deserts, woodlands, and coastal sand dunes. These habitats provide homes to a wide range of wildlife and some unique species of birds. With such a variety of bird species in a country, how could they possibly choose just one as their national bird? They held a contest! In 2008, they held a contest and the people voted on their favorite bird. Read on to find out what the people of Israel chose as the national bird of Israel!

What is the National Bird of Israel?

The national bird of Israel is the hoopoe. The people of Israel voted on the national bird and chose the hoopoe over other “candidates” like the yellow-vented bulbul and the Palestine sunbird. There were 155,000 Israelis that voted, but the media pointed out one little problem: the hoopoe is an unclean and forbidden food based on the Old Testament. It is listed as not being kosher. However, when you see the beautiful hoopoe, you will understand why the people of Israel voted this bird in.

What is a Hoopoe?

The hoopoe is an interesting-looking bird with a fancy crown of feathers that spreads when excited. They have a pinkish-brown chest and black and white striped wings. Another distinctive feature is their overly long, skinny beak. Hoopoes are around 10 to 11 inches long, so about the same size as an American robin. If you saw a few hopping around looking for insects you might hear their distinct call of oop-oop-oop. Hoopoes have a similar defense mechanism as skunks and are able to emit a smelly spray to ward off predators.

Eurasian Hoopoe or Common hoopoe (Upupa epops)

Like skunks, hoopoes can defend themselves with a smelly spray.

Where Does the Hoopoe Live?

Hoopoes live in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and northern Africa. They nest in vertical surfaces like cliffs, haystacks, trees, and on the sides of houses or buildings. Hoopes are very adaptable birds but prefer grasslands, the edge of forests, or any habitat that has plenty of insects. They eat insects like grasshoppers, spiders, locusts, and beetles, and will often eat the larvae or pupa of moths. In Israel, they can be found throughout much of the country.  

Is the Hoopoe Featured on Israeli Money?

No, the hoopoe is not featured on Israeli money. The currency in Israel is the new shekel with the latest series of banknotes featuring famous poets and their poems. The coins feature important Israeli symbols like the lyre, lily, two cornucopias, and a palm tree with seven leaves and two baskets of dates.

One of the newest banknotes does feature an animal: the gazelle. On the back of the 100 note is an image of a group of gazelles along with the poem White days.

Are Hoopoes Endangered?

No, hoopoes are not endangered animals. There are several species of hoopoes, with the Eurasian or common hoopoe (Upupa epops) being one of the most populous. The IUCN lists them as an animal of “least concern” due to their large range and adaptability to habitats. There is some concern over hunting and habitat loss but for now, the birds are maintaining a healthy population both in Israel and globally.

Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops) feeding it's chicks captured in flight.

What Other Animals Live in Israel?

Other animals that live in Israel include the gazelle-like oryx and addax. The oryx has horns that are much longer than the mountain gazelle, jutting straight back off their heads. The addax on the other hand has twisted horns and is sometimes called the “screw horn antelope”. The Yotvota Hai-Bar Nature Reserve in southern Israel takes in these antelopes and breeds them so they can later be released into the Negev Desert. The reserve is also home to sand cats, ostriches, Griffon vultures, and Arabian wolves.

What Animals Live in the Mediterranean Sea?

The Mediterranean Sea has some common sea animals as well as some unique and endangered ones. The Mediterranean Monk seal is one of the most endangered seals with only around 400 left. Loggerhead turtles also live in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, killer whales, and sperm whales. There are sharks including the shortfin mako, blue shark, blacktip, sand tiger, and sandbar shark. And yes, there are great white sharks as well that have been documented in the Mediterranean Sea.

What Other Birds Live in Israel?

Israel is along an important migration route for birds. In late fall, thousands of cranes make their way to Hula Lake in northern Israel. Anywhere from 80,000 to 90,000 birds will land there with about 30,000 to 40,000 staying in Hula Lake Park for the winter. Pelicans also stop by on their way to Africa where they will spend the winter. Nearly 50,000 large white, yellow-beaked pelicans pass through Israel.

Two of the other birds that were in the running for Israel’s national bird were the yellow-vented bulbul and the Palestine sunbird. The yellow-vented bulbul is a common songbird that lives near humans and is quite familiar to the people of Israel. These mostly tan birds have a short dark mohawk and yellow under their tail feathers. The Palestine sunbird is another small songbird that is known for its beautiful blueish-purple iridescent coloration.

When it came to the vote, however, the hoopoe was the top choice of the Israeli people and has shown to be a worthy representative over the years.

A Palestine sunbird in its natural habitat

Palestine sunbirds typically live in areas with dry climates and high temperatures.

What is the National Animal of Israel?

The national animal of Israel is the Israeli gazelle. It is sometimes called the mountain gazelle and is considered “endangered” by the IUCN. These deer-like animals have short, straight horns that come out the back of their heads. Both the females and males have horns but the females’ horns are quite a bit shorter. The hind legs of the mountain gazelle seem awkwardly longer than the front but help the gazelle navigate their mountainous habitats. Male mountain gazelles weigh between 35 and 65 pounds. The females are smaller, weighing 35 to 55 pounds.

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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