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Phoeniculidae – Woodhoopoes and Scimitarbills

Abyssinian Scimitarbill in Tanzania: Photo by Dubi Shapiro

Woodhoopoes and scimitarbills, members of the Phoeniculidae family, are known for their communal and social behavior, often seen in small, noisy flocks in African woodlands. These birds are characterized by their striking iridescent plumage, long decurved bills, and elongated tails. Woodhoopoes use their bills to probe into tree bark for insects, while scimitarbills prefer searching through leaves and branches. Their vocalizations are loud and distinctive, often involving a chorus of chattering calls. These cavity nesters rely on their tight-knit groups not only for foraging but also for defending their nesting sites.

Overview of Phoeniculidae

Woodhoopoes are dark, sleek, and glossy birds found in the savannas and forests of sub-Saharan Africa. Many savanna-dwelling species form noisy social groups of up to a dozen birds that breed cooperatively. Each sex has a distinctive repertoire of calls, and coordinated calling during group “rallies” seems to reinforce group cohesion. Adapted for foraging in trees, woodhoopoes have short legs that keep their bodies close to the trunk, and they use their stiff tails for support as they move up trunks, much like woodpeckers. They probe for bark-dwelling invertebrates with their long, slender, often decurved bills. Similar to their cousin the Hoopoe, some woodhoopoes secrete foul-smelling compounds that help repel both ectoparasites and predators.