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Phoeniculus purpureus (Green wood-hoopoe, Red-billed wood-hoopoe)

Gewone kakelaar [Afrikaans]; Rooibekkakelaar [Afrikaans]; Intlekibafazi [Xhosa]; iNhlekabafazi (in Swazi this name is applied to Arrow-marked babbler), uNukani [Zulu]; Musokoto (also applied to Scimitarbill) [Kwangali]; Haya (name also applied to Great spotted cuckoo) [Shona]; Yokoywana (also applied to Common scimitarbill) [Tsonga]; Foofoo [Tswana]; Groene kakelaar [Dutch]; Irrisor moqueur [French]; Steppenbaumhopf [German]; Zombeteiro-de-bico-vermelho [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Upupiformes > Family: Phoeniculidae

Phoeniculus purpureus (Green wood-hoopoe, Red-billed wood-hoopoe) Phoeniculus purpureus (Green wood-hoopoe, Red-billed wood-hoopoe)

Green wood-hoopoe, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ]

Immature Green wood-hoopoe, Gambia. [photo Martin Goodey ]

Common in central and eastern southern Africa, preferring habitats ranging from arid savanna to valley bushveld and wooded gardens. It forages on trees, running up and down trunks and branches locating food, usually insects but also reptiles, amphibians and seeds. It nests in pre-existing cavities and lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated for 17-18 days. The chicks are fed by helpers, as well as the breeding male and stay in the nest for 28-30 days. By 3-4 weeks after leaving the nest, they can fly strongly, and they are fully independent 2-3 months after fledging.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the lowland forest of the DRC and West Africa. Within southern Africa it is common in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, eastern South Africa, northern and eastern Botswana and northern Namibia. It generally prefers arid and mesic savannas, open miombo woodland, riverine forest, forest fringes, valley bushveld, thickets and wooded gardens.

Distribution of Green wood-hoopoe in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Brood parasites

It has been recorded as host of the Greater honeyguide and Lesser honeyguide.



Recorded by June Stannard, Ndumu Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa 1968, [ Transvaal Museum]



It mainly eats insects, foraging mainly on tree trunks and branches, probing and searching for food and occasionally descending to the ground. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, cooperative breeder, meaning that the breeding pair are assisted by non-breeding helpers.
  • Nests in pre-existing cavities such as hollows in trees, fence posts or buildings. The following trees have been used as nest sites in the Eastern Cape:
    • Strelitzia nicolai (Coastal Strelitzia)
    • Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild-plum)
    • Schotia latifolia (Bush boer-bean)
    • Commiphora woodii (Forest corkwood)
    • Commiphora harveyi (Copper-stem corkwood)
    • Euphorbia
    • Ficus (Wild figs)
    • Obetia tenax (Rock Tree Nettle)
    • dead trunks
    • alien species
      • Jacaranda mimosifolia (Jacaranda)
      • Melia azedarach (Persian lilac)
Phoeniculus purpureus (Green wood-hoopoe, Red-billed wood-hoopoe)  

Green wood-hoopoe nest with eggs, Sericea farm, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ]

  • It can lays its eggs at any time of year, although in drier areas such as Namibia laying is usually before or after rain (September-November or March-June).
  • It lays 2-5 eggs in successive mornings on the cavity floor.
  • Incubation starts with the penultimate or last egg laid, lasting for 17-18 days. The female is the sole incubator, but she is provided food by the male and group members.
  • The chicks are fed food collected by a number of helpers as well as the male. The female is usually the one who feeds the chicks, but the helpers, especially non-breeding females, will sometimes try to feed the brood, although rarely succeeding.
  • The nestlings stay in the nest for 28-30 days, after which they clumsily fly away, although they still remain in the vicinity of the nest.  The parents feed the juveniles for 2-3 months after fledging, sometimes noisily coaxing the juveniles into entering a roost hole. Once the juveniles are settled in, the adults fly away to roost elsewhere. The juveniles are capable of strong flight 3-4 months after leaving the nest, becoming fully independent soon afterward.


Not threatened, although out-competed for nesting sites in urban areas by Common starling.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.