Exotic Visitor to Bridgend County

There has been a lot of excitement in the birding (and wider wildlife enthusiast) community caused by the presence of a migrant bird that has been hanging around a couple of miles from Porthcawl, near Sker Farm and the Pyle & Kenfig golf course.

The cause of the fuss is a very exotic-looking Hoopoe (Welsh name = Copog), a bird whose English and scientific names (Upupu epops) are all onomatopoeic, referring to their unusual call. Approximately a 100 individuals turn up in the UK every year, usually in the spring where they have overshot on their migration, but they have very rarely bred here.

The Hoopoe is the only species of its family (Upupidae) having a number of subspecies across its range which sometimes overlap. They are widespread in North Africa, Europe and Asia with some in the tropics being sedentary and others further north and south migrating back to warmer climes in the winter.

They are a hole-nesting bird, a bit larger than a Mistle Thrush, that inhabit open land and savannah with scattered trees with areas of short turf that it can probe for insects with its distinctive curved beak.

They are distinctively-marked with largely pinkish colouration and dramatically barred wings as well as a crest which is fanned when alighting or excited. They have an unusual technique to ward off predators where they spread their tail and wings flat to the ground and point their beak upwards when attacked, it’s also used as a way of basking in the sun and during territorial displays.

They are a species that often turn up in mythology with their crest supposedly indicating royal status; they were known as the King of the Birds in Aristophanes’ Ancient Greek comedy The Birds and they were also used as a hieroglyph.

At the time of writing the bird had been present in more or less the same field for more than a week, happily foraging amongst sheep and seemingly unfazed by the constant presence of keen wildlife-watchers. I certainly couldn’t resist going to see it as I’ve wanted to see a Hoopoe since I saw a picture of one in a wildlife book I had as a child and to have it (relatively) on my doorstep was a real treat.

-- Vaughn Matthews, Conservation Officer

Hoopoe (Upupa epops) by Vaughn Matthews