Could we ever see one of these clowns nesting in Chichester again? A pair did so in 1835 in a hollow tree at Park End. That area was presumably Priory Park.
Another pair nested at Oving more than 30 years later in 1868. And that was that. Except that a pair bred somewhere in Sussex in 1976, the great drought year.
If this is to be another drought year, keep your eyes peeled for this extraordinary bird. ‘You can’t miss it’, as everyone says, giving unintelligible directions to strangers.
Think of a skewbald magpie, or a pre-Revolutionary Antoinette fan. Because when it flies, the hoopoe looks just that: an exotic fan opening and shutting; a flashing of black and white cryptograms, a sort of danger signal that a leaping tiger would give galloping through bushes.
I have even been reminded of the Japanese sensu (fan), perhaps ornamented with a poem as was the custom in seventh-century Japanese culture, written in large characters of black against a white paper background. If that were so, the hoopoe’s long beak, with its crest behind, would be the quill with barbs and barbicels attached.
Even odder is the bird’s proper name; Upupa epops epops. This is deliberately onomatopoeic. The hoopoe does say its name in both English and Latin.
The triple or often quadruple poop is what Beethoven would have heard around Vienna 200 years ago that would have given him the victory motif at the opening of his fifth symphony.
It is exactly the same speed of delivery and rate repetition as these most famous of all symphonic phrases.
So does this clown of a bird have, like all clowns, a highly serious and dramatic side to its nature and its design for living?
April is the best month to see them, which is when they arrive from Africa. Their big wide wings make them look a little like a jay flying. Somebody in Selsey had one land in their garden in April a year or two ago, at a quarter to nine in the morning.
I always used to see one perched on the barbed wire fence in Kingley Vale above Crowshall fields, in mid April, and that bird used to stay for two or three days, getting its strength back before going on east.
Whereas in the 1960s, 100 records for the year were made by birders, that number now is only 47 per year. So the chances of them breeding in Chichester are as likely now as finding a hollow tree in the city not seen by a HASAWA inspector.
However, if you are repairing or building your wall in your garden or farmyard, give the clown a sporting chance and leave her a niche, as somebody did down in France where this photo was taken.
It is also just the sort of place a spotted flycatcher or a pied wagtail would nest and they’re not all that common either.