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Discover the Fascinating World of the Black-billed Woodhoopoe

Birdwatchers and nature lovers alike are captivated by the beauty and elegance of different species of birds. One bird species that stands out with its unique physical features and characteristics is the Black-billed Woodhoopoe or Phoeniculus somaliensis.

This bird is native to the Sahel region of Africa but can be found in various parts of the continent, including Somalia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. In this article, we will explore different aspects of this bird species, including its identification, plumages, molts, and similar species.


One of the unique features of the Black-billed Woodhoopoe is its striking appearance. It has a glossy black plumage with purple and green hues that shine in sunlight.

The bird’s wings and tail are adorned with white markings, contrasting the black overall appearance. Another notable feature is the bird’s long, curved black bill, which is thicker at the base and tapers down to a sharp point.

The bird’s short legs are pale blue, and it has strong feet with curved claws for clinging to trees. Field


When it comes to identifying the Black-billed Woodhoopoe in the wild, there are some key physical and behavioral characteristics to look out for.

Unlike other bird species that are more elusive and tend to fly away when humans approach, these birds are highly vocal and can be spotted easily in woodlands, forest edges, and savannas. They are often seen in small groups or pairs, foraging for prey such as insects, spiders, small reptiles, and fruit.

They also have a distinctive and musical call, which sounds like “hoop-hoop-hoop, hoop-hoop.”

Similar Species

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe belongs to the Hoopoe family, and it is closely related to other species such as the Green Woodhoopoe and Trumpeter Hornbill. These species share some physical and behavioral characteristics, such as a curved beak and a love of foraging for insects.

However, the Black-billed Woodhoopoe is distinguishable by its unique black plumage, white wing and tail markings, and its musical call.


Like many bird species, the Black-billed Woodhoopoe goes through different plumages throughout its life. As juveniles, they have a duller, brownish plumage, with speckled patterns on their wings and tails.

They begin to molt and develop their distinctive black plumage as they mature, reaching full adult plumage by around 18 months old. Adult males and females have similar plumage, making it difficult to distinguish their sexes visually.


During the molting process, a bird sheds old feathers and regrows new ones. The Black-billed Woodhoopoe undergoes two molts each year, one before and one after the breeding season.

During the molt, the bird’s feathers may look disheveled and uneven, as new feathers grow in. The duration of the molt process varies from a few days to several weeks, depending on the bird’s age and health.

In Conclusion

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe is a fascinating bird species that is admired by bird enthusiasts and nature lovers worldwide. Its unique physical features and behavioral characteristics set it apart from other species, making it an exciting bird to spot in the wild.

Understanding different aspects of the bird’s identification, plumages, molts, and similar species is essential to appreciate this bird’s beauty fully. of the bird species article.

Systematics History

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe, also known as Phoeniculus somaliensis, is a member of the family Phoeniculidae. This family is made up of 6-8 species of woodhoopoes and scimitarbills found in Africa.

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe was first described by ornithologist George Robert Gray in 1868. It was originally classified under the genus Irrisor but was later moved to its current genus Phoeniculus.

Geographic Variation

There is significant geographic variation across the range of the Black-billed Woodhoopoe, and the different subspecies can be distinguished by their plumage and geographic location. The bird’s range covers much of the Sahel region of Africa, from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east.


Currently, there are six recognized subspecies of the Black-billed Woodhoopoe:

– Phoeniculus somaliensis somaliensis: Found in Somalia, Djibouti, and northern Kenya. This subspecies is the smallest of all the Black-billed Woodhoopoe subspecies.

– Phoeniculus somaliensis meridionalis: This subspecies is found in eastern Ethiopia and central Somalia. It is slightly larger in size compared to somaliensis.

– Phoeniculus somaliensis verreauxi: Found in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, this subspecies is larger in size and has a more extensive black plumage than the preceding ones. – Phoeniculus somaliensis poensis: Occurring in the coastal areas of Nigeria and Cameroon, this subspecies has a more extensive white plumage than other subspecies.

– Phoeniculus somaliensis salvadorii: This subspecies is found in central Ethiopia. It is the largest subspecies in the range of this species and has a more extensive white blaze on its wings.

– Phoeniculus somaliensis reichenowi: This subspecies occurs in Angola, Zambia, and Tanzania. It has a darker black plumage than the other subspecies.

Related Species

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe is part of the order Bucerotiformes, which consists of hornbills, hoopoes, and woodhoopoes. Among the woodhoopoes, it is most closely related to the green woodhoopoe (Phoeniculus purpureus) and the White-headed Woodhoopoe (Phoeniculus bollei).

The green woodhoopoe and the black-billed woodhoopoe occupy slightly different habitats and ranges. The green woodhoopoe is found further south, from central Tanzania to southern South Africa.

The White-headed Woodhoopoe has a more restricted range and is found in central and eastern Angola.

Historical Changes to Distribution

There have been significant changes in the distribution of the Black-billed Woodhoopoe over the years. Deforestation and habitat fragmentation have contributed to the decline of the species in some parts of its range.

In West Africa, the bird’s range has retracted significantly, and it is now missing from most parts of Senegal and Gambia. In the east, the bird’s range is still continuous, but populations have declined due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Climate change is also affecting the bird’s distribution. There is evidence that the bird is extending its range northward in Ethiopia, presumably in response to changes in climate.

It is difficult to predict how these changes will affect the species in the future. Conservation efforts are underway to protect the Black-billed Woodhoopoe and its habitats.

The bird is still widespread and relatively common in many parts of its range. However, more studies are necessary to understand the species’ ecology and biology fully.

Different subspecies of the Black-billed Woodhoope may require specific conservation efforts tailored to their respective habitats and threats. In conclusion, the Black-billed Woodhoopoe is a unique bird species found mainly in the Sahel region of Africa.

Its range covers several countries, and various subspecies are recognized based on their geographic location and plumage. The bird is part of a group of woodhoopoes and scimitarbills found in Africa and is most closely related to the Green Woodhoope and White-headed Woodhoopoe.

Changes in land use, habitat fragmentation, and climate change have affected the bird’s distribution in some parts of its range. Continuing conservation efforts will be necessary to ensure the survival of this spectacular bird species and its different subspecies.

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The Black-billed Woodhoopoe is a bird species that is primarily found in the African Sahel region, where it inhabits a range of different landscapes. It readily adapts to the various ecological conditions and can be found in woodlands, grasslands, savannahs, and even urban areas.

This bird species is most commonly found in drywood and savannah regions, where it can find the perfect combination of habitats and resources. The bird species prefers areas with abundant trees, as they use the forest canopy and branches as launch pads to become airborne when foraging.

This bird species tends to choose trees like acacias, baobabs, and kapoks that provide essential nesting and roosting sites.

Movements and Migration

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe is a non-migratory bird, meaning that it does not make regular seasonal movements like many bird species. However, the bird may make some small-scale movements or repositioning based on changes in the environment or food availability.

These movements may be influenced by drought years or precipitation patterns that can result in poorer food supply or affect nesting sites.

The bird species also tends to expand its range seasonally.

For example, it may expand its range into bushland regions in the wet season, where they find forage in the now green and abundant vegetation. In contrast, in the dry season, species may choose to conserve energy by moving less, and as a result, their range may tend to be constricted to the areas that receive regular rainfall.

Migration may also occur in limited circumstances, such as in the most northern regions of the bird’s range, where the seasonal temperature changes are more pronounced. In such regions, the birds may choose to retreat to warmer areas during the cooler months, and as such, this seasonal movement of the bird species is referred to as altitudinal migration.

The birds may also be subject to local movements within their home area, depending on the availability of food and the need for new, suitable nesting sites. The bird species form pairs or small groups during mating season, during which time the birds will engage in pair formation rituals.

Once paired, the birds will remain together throughout the year, making them less inclined to migrate or move over large distances. In conclusion, the Black-billed Woodhoopoe is a bird species that is found mainly in the African Sahel region.

It inhabits various landscapes, from savannahs to woodlands, and can be found in both natural and urban areas. The bird species is non-migratory but may make some small-scale movements or change its range based on changes in the environment, food availability, or populations.

The birds form pairs or small groups during mating season, and once paired, they remain together throughout the year, leading to limited migratory behavior. While human activities like urbanization and deforestation pose a challenge to this bird species, as long as suitable habitats are available, they will remain fairly adaptable and thus retain their place in the Sahel ecosystem.

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Diet and Foraging


The Black-billed Woodhoopoe forages for food primarily on trees, utilizing its powerful feet and sharp claws to cling onto bark and branches while using its long beak to probe the bark crevices for insects. They tend to be found in small groups, and during feeding, one bird will take the lead in probing the bark while the rest of the group watches for any potential predators, waiting for their turn in feeding.


The Black-billed Woodhoopoe has a varied diet, feeding on various invertebrates such as spiders, ants, beetles, and caterpillars. They are known to probe the bark and crevices of trees to find hiding invertebrates, and that’s why they prefer trees with maximal hidden crevices.

This bird species also feeds on small reptiles, such as lizards and frogs, and fruits that are readily available in the regions they inhabit.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe has a fast metabolism and high body temperature to facilitate energy-consuming activities like flying and foraging. Like most birds, this species has a high metabolic rate that can sometimes result in an overly high body temperature.

For temperature control and balance, this species sweats little and instead uses panting and wing-flapping to regulate its temperature effectively.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Black-billed Woodhoopoe is a very vocal bird species, and their vocal behavior is an important part of their social interactions, pair-bonding, and defense against predators. The vocalizations of the Black-billed Woodhoopoe consist of a range of calls, which they use to communicate with other members of their group and, sometimes, with other related species.

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe’s vocalizations consist of a distinctive and musical “hoop hoop hoop” or “hoo-hoo-hoo” sound that can be heard throughout their range. This sound is used by the birds to locate each other while foraging or to signal potential danger to others in their group.

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe also has a range of other vocalizations, including a chattering sound that is used during mating season and a harsh scolding sound that is used to deter predators.

Communication between Black-billed Woodhoopoe mates or within a group can be intricate and complex and is achieved largely through the use of different vocalizations and body postures.

These complexities allow individuals of a tight-knit group to communicate effectively with one another and coordinate group activities such as foraging and defense against predators. In conclusion, the Black-billed Woodhoopoe is a very vocal bird species and uses vocalizations to communicate with other members of its group and defense against predators.

The bird species forages for food primarily on the trees, utilizing its strong feet and sharp claws while using its long beak to probe the bark crevices for insects. The Black-billed Woodhoopoe’s diet includes insects, small reptiles such as lizards and frogs, and fruits.

The bird species’ high metabolic rate and fast metabolism help them to carry out energy-consuming activities like flying and foraging, while their efficient temperature regulation is carried out by panting and wing-flapping. of the bird species article.



The Black-billed Woodhoopoe is an agile bird species and is capable of quick and graceful movements both on the ground and in the air. It uses its feet and claws to cling onto tree bark and branches while foraging, and its wings are strong enough to support it while it forages and flies.

When in flight, its wings appear broad and rounded, and it flies in a straight line, with rapid, shallow wing beats.

Self Maintenance

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe devotes a significant amount of time to self-maintenance behavior, including preening, feather maintenance, and sunbathing. These behaviors help the bird species maintain the excellent condition and plumage of its feathers.

During preening and feather maintenance, the birds remove excess oil and dirt from their feathers and realign them for optimal aerodynamics. Sunbathing is used to control pests, as UV light has a sterilization effect on external parasites like mites.

Agonictic Behavior

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe is a social bird species and is known for its agonistic behavior, which can be seen during aggressive interactions between individuals of the same species or of different species. These aggressive interactions occur over resources, including nesting sites, food, and prime foraging locations.

The birds use a range of behaviors, including threats, displays, and physical contact to defend their territories.

Sexual Behavior

During the mating season, the Black-billed Woodhoopoe’s social behavior shifts from an individualistic focus to one of courtship and pair-bonding. The bird species forms monogamous pairs, and these pairs bond through a series of courtship rituals such as displays of plumage and vocalizations, which improve mate selection and selection of nesting sites.

Males establish a territory that consists of multiple potential nesting sites, and the pair selects one to prepare and build a breeding nest.


The Black-billed Woodhoopoe breeds during the wet season, which provides the most abundant food supply for young chicks. It is a cooperative breeder; breeding pairs are often assisted in nest building and care of offspring by other individuals in their social group, albeit non-breeding birds.

Nesting sites are typically tree cavities, which can be naturally occurring or excavated by the birds themselves. Pairs may lay up to 4 eggs, which are incubated for around 20 days, before hatching.

The nestlings are fed a diet of insects and reptiles regurgitated by the parents and are typically independent 30-40 days after hatching.

Demography and Populations

The Black-billed Woodhoopoe’s demography is affected by a range of factors, including habitat degradation, hunting for sport, and the effects of climate change. The bird species has remained relatively stable and widespread within its range, but in regions like West Africa, the bird species faces threats from habitat destruction and climate change, which can negatively impact its food supply.

The bird species is not considered to be endangered, but its population size may be impacted in localized regions where habitat destruction is happening. The Black-billed Woodhoopoe does have limited commercial appeal, particularly for trophies in sport hunting, but the scope and intensity of these activities are currently not substantial enough to have significant effects on the overall population.


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