Animals > Hoopoes
18th-century English gilded pine bracket depicting a hoopoe perched in a wreath of fernlike foliage, reputedly made for a country house in Essex.
Hoopoes are colourful but shy birds inhabiting Europe and Asia and visiting England only occasionally. It is, therefore, an exotic choice of subject for this bracket made, no doubt, for an elegant house.
In fact, while a hoopoe is strikingly beautiful to look at with its long, narrow beak and crest like an Indian chief, its habits are less endearing as it feeds on excrement. This custom had been noted by the Greeks and its reputation as a foul bird increased when it was recorded frequenting graveyards.
However, according to the bestiaries, the hoopoe was also a caring bird that looked after its elderly parents, preening their feathers to keep them warm and licking their eyes to keep them clear. In art the hoopoe appears as an example to men to honour their parents and reciprocate their affection.