Although striking in appearance and obvious because they are gregarious, it is usually the loud cackling that first alert one to the presence of Green Wood-Hoopoes in the garden.

They are very busy birds, constantly moving around probing for food, flitting about between trees, and keeping in touch with each other with their cackling calls, often ostentatiously rocking backwards and forwards repeatedly and fanning out their tails while calling.

A Green Wood-hoopoe on tree trunk South Africa

Though their calling and busy antics make them conspicuous, their appearance alone – with their bright red bills and feet, iridescent plumage and long tails – is enough to attract attention  

Green Wood-Hoopoes (formerly known as Redbilled Woodhoopoes) are usually gregarious, living in small family groups of up to about 10 birds, sometimes as many as 16, with one breeding pair in the group. A small group of about 6 birds used to be frequent visitors to our garden, but sadly their visits have become rare and I have only heard them in the neighbourhood once this summer.

These birds occur through much of Africa – from Senegal in West Africa across to southern Sudan, and then south, skirting Ethiopia and avoiding the rain forests of central Africa, occurring in East Africa and then down into southern Africa, but not in the arid regions of the south west or the fynbos regions of the Cape.

Pair of Green Wood-Hoopoes (formerly Redbilled Woodhoopoes) foraging on tree trunk, KwaZulu-Natal.

Two Green Wood-Hoopoes probing for food in the fissured bark of the neighbour’s old avocado tree. Similarly to Woodpeckers, they use their tails for support

In addition to finding food along tree trunks and branches, Green Wood-Hoopoes will also forage on the ground and hawk insects in flight. Their food is mostly insects and insect larvae, as well as spiders, centipedes, geckoes, frogs, and sometimes berries, fruits, seeds and nectar.

Probing for food items, a Green Wood-hoopoe on tree trunk

The long bill of the Green Wood-Hoopoe enables it to probe effectively under loose bark and in cracks and crevices looking for food. The female has a slightly shorter and less-curved bill than the male

Pecking a hole in a tree trunk, a Green Woodhoopoe looks for food

This Green Wood-Hoopoe was behaving more like a woodpecker – the small chips of wood flying out from the hole it is busily excavating can be seen in the photo

Green Wood-hoopoes don’t need trees just for foraging – trees are essential for their nesting and roosting habits. They sleep communally in tree cavities at night, entering before it gets dark and leaving just after sunrise. Roosting communally helps to keep them warm as does the fact that they shelter in enclosed spaces. They compete with other species to find suitable roosting cavities.

Also known as the Redbilled Woodhoopoe, this Green Wood-Hoopoe pauses while foraging on a tree

The nesting hole is separate from the group’s communal roosting site. The female of the breeding pair incubates the eggs but all members of the group, including the breeding male, bring her food, and also bring food to the nest after the eggs have hatched. Interestingly, in the first few weeks, the female begs just like a juvenile for food brought to the nest by others. After she receives it she then feeds it to the babies. As the babies get older, the non-breeding helpers compete to feed the nestlings directly, evading the female.

All members of the group protect the nest and mob any potential predators. Predators include snakes and raptors. In some regions nests are parasitized by Honeyguides.

All members of the group communicate with the young by cackling, and they even take turns preening the youngsters before they fledge. After the babies have left the nest, all group adults look after the juveniles and lead them to their own roosting cavity and settle them in for the night, before departing to the adults’ roosting site.

Perched on a branch a Green Wood-hoopoe shows off its iridescent plumage

In this photo, the iridescent green patches on the Green Wood-Hoopoe’s neck, back, shoulders and breast can be seen. This green iridescence gives this species its name. By contrast the sheen on the Violet Wood-Hoopoe, a species that occurs in Namibia and Angola, is a coppery purple/violet

The name for the Green Wood-Hoopoe in Afrikaans – Rooibekkakelaar – literally means red-beaked cackler, and one of its Zulu names –  iNhlekabafazi – means the laughter of women, rather unflatteringly likening the laughing of women to raucous cackling!

I had been hoping to video these birds in the garden while they engage in some type of cackling behaviour, but I did not manage that when they were frequent visitors. Now that they are here so seldom, making such a recording seems unlikely.

Hopefully, the birds that we have seen here are still safe in their core territory, and perhaps they only visit here when they are out on scouting forays for a short time before returning to their home turf.


Hugh Chittenden, Greg Davies, Ingrid Weiersbye. 2016. Roberts Bird Guide: Illustrating nearly 1,000 Species in Southern Africa (2nd edition). Cape Town: Jacana;  Maclean, Gordon Lindsay. 1985. Roberts Birds of Southern Africa (5th edition). Cape Town: Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund;  Roberts VII Multimedia PC Edition.  1997-2016 Southern African Birding. For details go to

 Spider update

I thought that those who read my recent post on the garden orb-weaving spider might be interested that a few days after posting I saw that the spider had made her web more complex. Instead of the stabilimenta being only two lines of zigzags, she amended it by adding two more lines of zigzags so that it formed an ‘X’, as can be seen in the photos below. After a few more days, I was sad to find the web empty. The spider was missing – perhaps plucked out of the web by a bird? Perhaps for some reason she needed to move to another place? The deteriorating web is still there, evidence that she has not been back to effect any ongoing repairs.

Stabilimenta in the shape of an X in the web of a garden orb-weaving spider, South Africa

Posted by Carol 

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