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Wood hoopoes
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Green Woodhoopoe
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon
Unrecognized taxon (fix): Phoeniculidae

The Wood hoopoes and scimitarbills are a small African family, Phoeniculidae, of near passerine birds. They live south of the Sahara Desert and are not migratory. While the family is now restricted to sub-Saharan Africa, fossil evidence shows that the family once had a larger distribution. Fossils attributed to this family have been found in Miocene rocks in Germany.[1]

The wood hoopoes are related to the kingfishers, the rollers, and the Hoopoe, forming a clade with this last according to Hackett et al. (2008).[2] A close relationship between the Hoopoe and the woodhoopoes is also supported by the shared and unique nature of their stapes.[3] They most resemble the true Hoopoe with their long down-curved bills and short rounded wings. According to genetic studies, the two genera Phoeniculus and Rhinopomastus, appear to have diverged about 10 million years ago, so some systematists treat them as separate subfamilies or even separate families.[4]


The wood hoopoes are a morphologically distinct group, unlikely to be mistaken for any other.[5] These species are medium-sized (23 to 46 cm or 9 to 18 inches long, much of which is the tail).[4] They have metallic plumage, often blue, green or purple, and lack a crest.[6] The sexes are similar in all but one species, the Forest Wood Hoopoe.[7] Their bills are either red or black, although young red-billed species also have black bills and bill colour is correlated with age. The legs are scarlet or black; the legs are short, with thick tarsi. When climbing up the trunks of trees they do so in the manner of a woodpecker, and when feeding on the ground they hop instead of walking like the true Hoopoe.[5] Their tails are long and strongly graduated (the central feathers are the longest), and marked conspicuously with white, as are their wings.[4][7]

Range and Behaviour

File:Common Scimitar-bill 01.jpg

These are birds of open woodland, savannah, or thornbrush, and are mainly arboreal. They require large trees both for feeding on as well as to provide hollows for nesting and nocturnal roosting. Two species are found exclusively in rainforest, the Forest Wood Hoopoe and the White-headed Wood Hoopoe, all the other species are found in more open woodland and bush.[5]

They feed on arthropods, especially insects, which they find by probing with their bills in rotten wood and in crevices in bark.[7] They nest in unlined tree holes, laying two to four eggs, which are blue, grey, or olive, unmarked in most species.[4]


There are eight species.



  1. ^ Mayr, Gerald (2000). "Tiny Hoopoe-Like Birds from the Middle Eocene of Messel (Germany)". Auk. 117 (4): 964–970. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2000)117[0964:THLBFT]2.0.CO;2. 
  2. ^ Hackett, Shannon J.; Kimball, RT; Reddy, S; Bowie, RC; Braun, EL; Braun, MJ; Chojnowski, JL; Cox, WA; Han, KL; et al. (2008). "A Phylogenomic Study of Birds Reveals Their Evolutionary History". Science. 320 (5884): 1763–8. PMID 18583609. doi:10.1126/science.1157704. 
  3. ^ Feduccia, Alan (1975). "The Bony Stapes in the Upupidae and Phoeniculidae: Evidence for Common Ancestry" (PDF). The Wilson Bulletin. 87 (3): 416–417. 
  4. ^ a b c d Fry, C. Hilary (2003). "Wood-hoopoes". In Perrins, Christopher. The Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Firefly Books. p. 383. ISBN 1-55297-777-3. 
  5. ^ a b c Ligon, D (2001). "Family Phoeniculidae (Woodhoopoes)". In Josep, del Hoyo; Andrew, Elliott; Sargatal, Jordi. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 6, Mousebirds to Hornbills. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. pp. 412–427. ISBN 84-87334-30-X. 
  6. ^ Forshaw, Joseph (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 148–149. ISBN 1-85391-186-0. 
  7. ^ a b c Zimmerman, Dale A.; Turner, Donald A.; Pearson, David J. (1999). Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Princeton University Press. p. 395. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/0-691-01022-9|0-691-01022-9[[Category:Articles with invalid ISBNs]]]] Check |isbn= value: invalid character (help).  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)

External links

Sterna diversity This article is part of Project Bird Families, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each bird family, including made-up families.
Hemipus picatus This article is part of Project Bird Taxonomy, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on every order, family and other taxonomic rank related to birds.
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