Physical characteristics: One of the world's largest larks, the greater hoopoe-lark was so named because of its resemblance to the hoopoe (HUU-puu) bird. In fact, its scientific name means "hoopoe with legs of a lark." They typically measure 7.1 to 7.9 inches (18 to 20 centimeters) long. Males weigh 1.4 to 1.8 ounces (39 to 51 grams), while females, whose bills are also roughly 30 percent shorter, weigh between 1.1 to 1.6 ounces (30 to 47 grams). The hoopoe-lark has a long, slender bill that curves downward slightly. In both sexes, un-derparts are whitish, upperparts are sand-colored, and breast and throat are black-spotted. The bird has long, broad wings with a bold black-and-white pattern.
Geographic range: The greater hoopoe-lark is an African and Asian bird, occupying patches of habitat in the Cape Verde Islands, in North Africa from Mauritania to Egypt and Sudan, and across the Middle East to India's northwest region.
Greater hoopoe-larks eat mostly insects and snails. They smash snails on rocks or drop them from the air to crack their shells. (Illustration by Emily Damstra. Reproduced by permission.)
Habitat: The greater hoopoe-lark lives in deserts or semideserts and has evolved the ability to survive with little water.
Diet: Hoopoe-larks eat mostly insects and snails, from which they take nutrition as well as water. The birds use their down-curved bills to dig their prey out of hiding places and sandy spots, and have been observed smashing snails on rocks or dropping them from the air to crack their shells.
Behavior and reproduction: Usually seen alone or in pairs, the hoopoe-lark often allows birdwatchers to come within several feet (meters) before it flees. Males of the species defend their territories with a spread-winged posture, and their songs are piercing and loud. The male hoopoe-lark's song-flight, which he may perform continuously for up to an hour, consists of jumping up from a perch as he starts to sing and then flapping vertically to 33 feet (10 meters). He may then perform somersaults to show off his contrasting tail and wing plumage before plummeting to Earth, opening his wings only as he pulls out of the dive and lands.
Greater hoopoe-larks and people: The greater hoopoe-lark has no special significance to humans.
Conservation status: This species is not threatened in general, although in some locations its populations are declining due to conversion of suitable breeding grounds to agricultural, military, or recreational use. ■
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