You don’t have to be a trained birdwatcher to accurately recognize the hoopoe. There are two reasons. First, this bird is common in Israel and secondly there is only one kind species in the hoopoe worldwide. There are a few subspecies if you are thinking like a trained birdwatcher, but they only have minor differences in appearance and until recently they all were considered as a single species.
In any case the hoopoe is rarely confused with any other bird because it has a special look with black and white wings that are clearly visible during flight. Their impressive striped feather crown spreads occasionally when the bird is alert. It has a long sharp beak that the hoopoe uses to dig in the ground and probe for all kinds of insects and other invertebrates. For the hoopoe this is delicious food. Sometimes it gets lucky and finds a small reptile and then uses its sharp beak as a sword to immobilize it and throw it into the air in order to swallow it in one piece.
As part of the festivities around Israel's 60th birthday, the state bird was finally chosen. The competition included strong names like the Griffon vulture, the gold finch, and the cute sunbird. Eventually the winner was the hoopoe or 'duchifat' in Hebrew.
While nesting, our national bird protects its nest in a unique way. It secretes a stinking odor from a special gland which is spread in the nest, leaving the chicks very smelly and keeping predators like cats, snakes and other predatory birds at a distance. Most of the time this trick works and the chicks end up leaving the nest healthy and strong. It looks like this nesting trick works very well all over Europe, Asia and Africa (the old world) because the hoopoe is found all over those continents. In contrast in the 'new world' of the Americas this species is not found.
The hoopoe is known in Eretz Israel for millennia. It is mentioned in the Bible and because of its stinking odor it was not kosher for religious Jews to eat. Similarly, other birds like the the Heron and the vulture are also off the Jewish menu.
So next time you see this young Israeli icon, think about its great survival tricks and enjoy its beauty.