Hudhud have thought it was the Hoopoe?

By Rajneesh Suvarna

The enigmatic Hoopoe
The enigmatic Hoopoe

After threatening the east coast of India for nearly a week, Cyclone Hudhud finally made landfall at Visakhapatnam leaving a trail of destruction. The destructive phenomenon, though, had an unusual repeat-sounded word as its name. A word that to me meant a specific bird in a local Indian language.

Trying to figure out why Oman had named the cyclone after a bird in an Indian language led me to the fact that it was a word in Arabic; in fact it was the same bird the name referred to in India — the Hoopoe.

The name Hudhud is quite ancient with references in the Holy Quran. The Arabic and Persian references steeped into Indian languages over time is what one can guess. Just as the name Hudhud has its roots in the call the bird makes, its common name Hoopoe as well as its genus name Upupa have onomatopoeic roots.

African Hoopoe
African Hoopoe

The Hoopoe is an elegant bird — rufous in color with a large fan-shaped crest that it opens up when excited or alarmed. In flight it is quite mesmerizing with black-and-white banded wings flashing. This ensured that this bird caught the eye of ancients all over, finding its way into one of the most celebrated pieces of Persian poetry from the 12th century ‘The Conference of the Birds’ by Farid ud-Din Attar as Hudhud, the leader of birds. Much earlier it emerges in rather sordid circumstances in the Greek play ‘The Birds’ under the name Epops which, incidentally, is now its species name. Even earlier, the Hoopoe, which mates for life, featured in Egyptian hieroglyphs and though we don’t know for sure what their name sounded like, they were considered to be doting parents. This could have arisen from a very peculiar attribute of the bird, something that’s very rare in the avian world: Defense by smell. The preening gland of the incubating female produces a foul-smelling liquid that she promptly smears on the chicks to deter predators.

Throughout history the Hoopoe has signified various things in different cultures, from being symbols of virtue in Persia to harbingers of war in Scandinavia; marked as detestable in the Bible, and not kosher in the fifth book of the Jewish Torah. Yet, it was voted the national bird of Israel.

The Green Ogre is grateful to Rajneesh Suvarna for this guest post

Rajneesh Suvarna is a software professional with a love for all things wild, who after 20 years in the corporate world decided to follow his passion for travel, wildlife and photography. Photographs from his travels have featured in various international publications. He now runs an adventure wildlife travel company Wayfarer. You can also follow his travels spelt out in images and a few words at NatureChronicles.com

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