Tour Question

Gobi Desert

WHERE/WHAT IS GOBI DESERT?

Unlike the romanticized image of deserts with sweeping sand dunes, most of the landscape of The Gobi consists of rocky, hard-packed terrain. While the solid land underfoot made it easier to transverse the desert, catapulting the Gobi onto the scene of history as a viable trade route, there was a very little settled human occupation in the area until modern times. A clue to the historical perception of the Gobi as an inhospitable region is found in its name, which derives from the Mongolian word for "very large and dry."

The Gobi is a rain shadow desert formed by the Himalaya range, which prevents rain-carrying clouds from reaching it. It is roughly crescent-shaped, lying between the Altai and Khangai mountain ranges in the north and the Pei Mountains in the south. The eastern side of the desert is fringed by the Sinkiang region, a large basin that extends towards the Plateau of Tibet. Towards the west of the Gobi lies the Greater Khingan Range.

The Gobi occupies a vast arc of land 1,000 miles (1,600 km) long and 300 to 600 miles (500 to 1,000 km) wide, with an estimated area of 500,000 square miles (1,300,000 square km).

Physiography - The Gobi consists of the Gaxun, Junggar, and Trans-Altai Gobi in the west, the Eastern, or Mongolian, the Gobi in the center and east, and the Alxa Plateau in the south.

The Trans-Altai Gobi is situated between the eastern spurs of the Mongolian Altai and Gobi Altai mountains to the north and east, respectively, and the Bei Mountains to the south. The plain is elevated, sharp, and rugged. Alongside the plains and the isolated group of low, rounded hills is a fairly extensive mountain area that extends more than six miles (10km) out into the plain. The mountains are barren and broken up by dry ravines.

The Eastern Gobi is similar to the western regions, with elevations varying from 2,300 to 5,000 feet (700 to 1,500 meters), but it receives somewhat more precipitation—up to 8 inches (200 mm) per year—though it lacks significant rivers. The underground aquifers have relatively abundant quantities of water and are only partly mineralized. They are also near the surface, feeding small lakes and springs. The vegetation, however, is sparse, consisting mainly of herb wormwood in coarse, grayish-brown soil. In the moister depressions, there are the usual salt marshes and grassy swamps. In the northern and eastern outlying regions, where more precipitation occurs, the landscape of the desert gradually becomes less harsh, or sometimes even steppe-like.

Climate - The climate is acutely continental and dry: winter is severe, spring is dry and cold, and summer is warm. The annual temperature range is considerable, with average lows in January reaching −40 °F (−40 °C) and average highs in July climbing to 113 °F (45 °C); daily temperature ranges also can be quite large. The annual total precipitation varies from less than 2 inches (50 mm) in the west to more than 8 inches (200 mm) in the northeast. Monsoon like conditions exists in the eastern regions, which receive most of their precipitation in summer. Northerly and northwesterly winds prevail over the Gobi in autumn, winter, and spring.

Gobi Soil - The drainage of the desert is largely underground; surface rivers have little constant flow. Mountain streams are confined to the Gobi’s fringes and even then quickly dry up as they disappear into the loose soil or the salty, enclosed depressions. Many rivers flow only in summer. On the other hand, subterranean water is widespread and of sufficient quality to allow cattle raising.

During the Holocene Epoch (i.e., about the past 11,700 years), the Gobi’s lakes have shrunk in size, leaving a series of terraces considerably farther from and higher than the present shorelines. Indeed, Lakes Orog and Bööntsagaan, in the easternmost Mongolian Altai, and Lake Ulaan, in the northwestern Gobi Altai, are but shadows of their former selves.

The soil of the Gobi is chiefly grayish brown and brown carbonaceous, gypseous, coarse gravel, often combined with sandy salt marshes and takyr.

Sands of the Gobi Deserts

Despite the fact that much of the Gobi desert consists of gravel or rocky terrain, the few sand dunes that do exist continue to draw scientific inquiry and tourists alike. There are two major theories about the origins of the sand dunes in Mongolia. One theory, which is the more popular theory among scientists, states that the sands were carried into the desert on wind currents, much the way that water can carry sand. This theory has gained popularity as science has been able to track wind currents in the region, and the sand dunes have been proven to have developed along traditional wind paths. While this is the more predominant theory, an alternative idea exists that claims the sand dunes were originally a product of water erosion.

Yoliin Am 

Yoliin Am or Vulture Valley is named after the soaring lammergeyers that reside on the topmost rocks of the basalt canyon. The canyon is renowned for its glacier, a sinuous sheet of ice several meters thick. The ice survives well into July thanks to the deep shade of mountains averaging 6000 ft (2000m) above sea level. The Yol Valley is within the mighty Zuun Saikhan Nuruu subrange, or to locals, the Eastern Beauty.

The Gurvan Saikhan Mountains and its subranges were formed when the Indian and Asian tectonic plates collided, creating the Himalayas. Three lengthy mountains appear to be mounted on each other, East beauty being the highest, followed by the Middle Beauty and West Beauty. Of them all, East Beauty, with its high elevation and deep canyon with cool shade, creates a land of rich flora, home to many animals.

A visit to the Yoliin Am starts with the small museum to learn about the Gurvan Saikhan National Park. The stuffed lammergeyer or the bearded vulture is by the entrance. This mount provides a good idea of the bird’s wingspan, which stretches to 2.5 meters (8.2 ft). Beneath the exhibit is prey scavenged by the lammergeyer.  These include rodents of the National park, as well as a skunk, polecat, corsac fox, badgers, hares, and rabbits. The local museum highlights the Gobi bear, wild Bactrian camel, snow leopard, ibex, wild Argali sheep, wild ass, and black-tailed gazelles, all of which are indigenous to the region.  Most are in danger of extinction.

Driving deeper into East Beauty, the valley narrows as rocky peaks get higher.  The dominant peak stands highest at 2700 m (8858 ft) above sea level. The hillsides are covered in patches of dark green. Dwarf juniper, along with wild rhubarb creates colorful patterns. The beginning of the trekking route leads to the natural spring, which funnels down into the narrowest part of the gorge, perpetually in the shade - one reason why the ice remains, even during the heat of the summer. The first snowfall is as early as September; by October the spring starts to freeze at night. Over winter snow and ice pile up, creating a large ice cover 50 cm to 3 meters (1½ - 10 ft) thick. In May, none of the Ovoos, stone piles along the hiking routes are visible. They are buried by ice. In some parts of East, Beauty ice reaches 10 meters (32 ft). In the Yol Valley, however, ice is gone by the end of July, usually, after heavy rains wash the ice down to the flash beds, then to the steppe, which eventually feeds the growth of wild onions and leeks on the Gobi desert basin floor.

As more and more people visit the valley, the ovoos are getting bigger and taller as each traveler contributes to the pile with their stones, following the ancient tradition. Originally, ovoos were built on the tops of sacred mountains, marking a special area where a shaman or lama connected with heaven and its spirits. Now, ovoos more likely indicate a border or a road sign, where everyone drives with their intuition and knowledge of the landscape.

The basalt rock formations of the Yol Valley are impressive and picturesque, making it one of the must-see places in the country. The geologists estimated the age of the basalt at 500 million years, although mountains were formed much later ~ 20-15 million years ago.

In terms of wildlife that inhabit the valley, the canyon represents a vertical portrayal of the various birds, animals, and their territories. The topmost peaks are inhibited by the lammergeyers, black vultures, Himalayan griffon, and golden eagles while saker falcons and kestrels hunt along the lower hilltops down to the land of scurrying pikas. The craggy tops are also home to wild ibex - well known for their climbing skills. Ibex graze in the grassy patches among the rocks, steal down to the spring early in the morning for a cool sip of water, then head back to the upper reaches for safety, rest and food. During summer and after the mating season, male ibexes tend to live separately, rather than in a herd. Females tend their kids and young males prepare for leadership opportunities. Finally, as the season progresses, the animals group together, spending the harsh winter as a herd.

The lower zone in this valley is the place where swallows, martins, sparrows, finches, and redstarts feast, each in their own way. Swallows and martins are fast and furious. There is only a glimpse of the shiny dark blue back, trying to catch as many insects and flies over the valley’s stream as is possible. The rock sparrows, with their yellow bills and black and white wings, are on the ground picking up seeds and berries together with Mongolian finches, identified by the reddish stripes along with the wings. It is tricky to climb down the narrowest part of the gorge. It slopes steeply down into the water. It is so rewarding though. Be patient and look closely: You will see the wallcreeper, a small dark bird with fanciful red-spotted butterfly-like wings and tail. When this bird is creeping in the crevices of the dark gray basalt rock, it is well-camouflaged, but once it flies, it certainly is one of the prettiest birds in the country.

Bayanzag or the Flaming Cliff

Bayanzag is better known by its English name, the Flaming Cliff.  The local name Bayanzag means “rich of saxaul tree” - Bayan for rich and Zag for saxaul.  Three kilometers north of the cliff is what Gobi people call Forest of Zag. This forest is nothing like the forests in the central or northern Mongolia. But for the Gobi, it is the largest area covered by saxaul trees - trees that are about 200 hundred years old and just several meters tall. The saxaul forest, located at the lowest area within the region, is primarily fed through summer rains which melt spring snow and generate flash floods. Mineral-rich water from the Gurvan Saikhan Mountain, Arts Bogd Mountain, and the northern hills flows into this lower basin, creating the richest soil in the Gobi and also feeding the oasis-like area of Bayanzag.  

South of Bayanzag is called the Flaming Cliff, thanks to Roy Chapman Andrews, an American explorer who came to Mongolia in the 1920s. Flaming Cliff is another creation of flash floods.  Water in combination with strong west and north winds has eroded the cliffs.  It has taken time, but over the last 15 million years, the land was broken to show several layers of red tolgod. The iron dioxide in the soil makes the cliff look orange to red when reflecting the sunlight. Roy Chapman Andrews, amazed by the beauty of the red glowing hills blazed by the setting sun, decided to call it Flaming Cliff. 

What makes the area even more famous is the number of dinosaur fossils found in the area. Eighty million years ago, this lowland was covered by large forests with great lakes. It was also home to the last remaining dinosaurs living 65 million years ago. The dinosaurs here were more evolved because of the decreasing quality of their habitat: they were faster, smarter, and smaller. Protoceratops andrewsi is the symbol of the area and often compared to sheep herds of its time. Tarbosaur and Velociraptor, the predators, survived as evidenced through fossil remains.

The area is also famous in the history of paleontology, the spot where the first-ever dinosaur egg was found. The Flaming Cliff has also been proven to be the refuge for the Oviraptor, who came to the area to build their nests and hatch young. 

The Bayanzag area today is the grazing pasture for Bactrian camels, as much as it is a rich source of saxaul trees and medicinal caragana bushes. When the summer is “good”, the whole area is covered by nutritional onions and leeks. Herders around the area gather their camel herds and sheep and goat flocks to graze on the bounty.  Farmers also grow vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers, root veggies, peppers, even watermelons near the natural springs close to the area. 

Bayanzag is a historically important area for locals, as it has recently been shown to be the main tea route replacement for the infamous Silk Road. When the Silk Road was blocked by the constant war during the 17th century, the route was changed to the south without passing through Mongolia. A new tea route was then established between southern and western Mongolians and China and Tibet. That is the route through the Bayanzag area, and it follows water sources and the wells.

Khavsgait Petroglyph

The Gurvan Saikhan Mountain area was the area human settlements flourished during the Neolithic and Bronze age eras. Several areas are noted for ancient petroglyphs, flintstone villages, and ancient burial sites. Khavtsgait Petroglyph is the largest collection of rock petroglyphs on the mountain. The whole side of the mountain is covered by hundreds of animal depictions including ibex and gazelles. These animals were roaming the mountains and steppes during those eras.

  • On several rocks, ibex is chased by a horse-mounted archer, shooting from a running horse.
  • One shows the hunter chasing the ibex towards a lord or a king, who is differentiated by a tall hat and elegant quivers. 
  • On the same rock, the kings were sitting on a higher, throne-like seat, being offered gifts by visitors, carved to be standing lower. The men and women standing behind the king, along with the visitors, seemed to be slightly bowing their heads.

The Late Neolithic is considered the time tribes had leaders. Leaders earned more and fought for better material things.

  • On the left corner of one rock, there are ger shaped mounds, a scene that has not yet been explained clearly by archaeologists.
  • Another rock shows what appears to be an agricultural-type cart, based on similar rock petroglyphs found in other parts of the country. 
  • There is a petroglyph of a two-humped camel with a rider sitting between the two humps.

These tribes survived by hunting, but from the petroglyph, it appears they had domesticated camels, horses, and dogs.

  • Hunting prey painted included wild Argali sheep – a depiction on the first rock, on the hill side while walking up the trail. The Argali seems to be running forward. The artists had advanced skills to create the animal’s motion so beautifully without compromising realism.
  • Deers were carved with precise details and yet with slightly exaggerated antlers through intricate lines and curves.
  • Wolves and dogs were differentiated by the tails, one hooked upward; horses were etched to have ground-reaching tails and a bigger body.
  • The man’s image on one particular rock is clearly different from the woman’s, mainly by the hanging. These are among the mares and stallions.

The gender differentiating petroglyphs, drawn with sketchy and thicker lines, are more faded compared to the intricate designs found in some petroglyphs. This seems to indicate petroglyphs were done in different time periods.

The search for new discoveries at the top of the hill seems to go on forever. Despite the difficulty of the scree track, more “artist rocks” can be found. The whole area is peaceful and inspiring. The endless vastness of the Gobi, the floating lakes created by the distant mirage, the dreamy haze over the flowing hills, the shapes of fluffy clouds might have been the muse of the artists.

Khongor Sand Dune

The Gobi Desert is often mistakenly thought to be covered completely by dunes. Only 5 percent of the Gobi is dunes. The Khongor Sand Dune is the highest and longest sand dune in the country. Khongor means buckskin, for its bright cream color. However, the dune changes its color with the sunlight, having a reddish hue during the sunset and sunrise. Midday, from afar, it can even look as white as snow. Khongor Sand Dune is also known as the Singing Sand Dune.  As the wind sweeps the sand down the dune, it makes a humming noise. A French team explained this phenomenon occurred because a thin surface coating of slate over the sand grains caused the sand to make a resonant sound. The sound is also attributed to the heat, the weather conditions in the desert, and the avalanche effect caused by the harmoniously moving sand particles. The singing dune is in the western region, where the dune is highest. 

Khongor Sand Dune stretches for 180 km (112 mi) from west to southeast, in between the Zuulun and Sevrei Mountains. The highest peak reaches up to 300 meters (984 ft) and spreads as wide as 15 km (9 mi). At the foothill of the highest sand dune, there is an oasis of saxaul trees, caragana bushes, bristles grasses, wild irises, and even some poplar trees. The subterranean river gurgles up from the ground in the swampy land at the foot of the dune and skirts along the dune, in some places having small canyon-like cliffs. The dune itself has attractive curves with sharp edges, artistically managed by the wind. 

There are different theories about how the sand dunes were formed. The first of the theories declared the dune was formed at the bottom of the sea, where the Gobi was started millions of year ago. Now, however, the belief is that the dunes are relatively young - about 2 million years old.  Sand is blown along with the wind; the wind is blocked by the two majestic mountain ranges in the north and south of the existing dune and the sand is then deposited between them. The lower area, where wind whistles relentlessly, is also an area of flash floods; floods carrying pebbles, gravel, and sand grains and finally releasing them when reaching plants. The snowfall at the dunes is as much as in the mountains.  During the winter, there can be as much as 50 cm (19 ½ in). 

The area is good grazing land for camels during the winter. Sheep and goats tend to go to the mountains or the plain in between. Gobi people spend their summer by the sand dune relying on the Seruun Bulag oasis. The temperature by the dune during summer is often 5-10 degrees higher and Gobi people hope for the wind to cool the area. In winter, the wind makes things worse and locals who would happily use the snow for water during that time, have moved up into the mountains, into more wind-shielded areas. 

The sand dune itself is not supportive of a rich fauna. However, during a dry spring, wild asses will come to the spring for water. They will use their incredible skills to dig for water. But as the summer crowd moves into Khongoryn Els for the season, the wild asses will run away from the oases to the other side of the dune; run toward the steppes and deserted land. 

Birdlife

Lammergeyer (Gypaetus barbatus)

Near threatened

The Yoliin Am is a phenomenal birding area. The Gobi desert, surrounding Yoliin Am, is a remarkable and unique natural landscape in itself. The route to Yoliin Am, and the park in which it lies, Gobi Gurvan Saikhan, provides excellent opportunities to observe both resident and migrant birdlife.

Significant Mongolian vulture species, and particularly special to Yoliin Am, are the well-known Lammergeyer, Black vulture, and Eurasian Griffon.  Yoliin Am (meaning the Gorge of Bearded Vultures) was named for the Lammergeyer (the Bearded Vulture), or as Mongolians call the vulture, the Yol.

Over the cliffs, canyons, and desert, these Old World vultures soar on heated updrafts, searching for ‘prey’.  Overlapping territory with vultures, the relatively smaller Steppe Eagle and Golden Eagle reside.  And throughout Mongolia, Black Kites are common; Saker Falcons and Peregrine Falcons are present; and harriers, the Lesser Kestrel, and merlins can be seen.

The area is host to more than simply birds of prey. The elegant black-necked Demoiselle Crane, seemingly out of place in the desert, hunts lizards and insects on the open gravel plains during the heat of the summer.  Slightly smaller birds include Red-billed Chough (a crow relative), the striking Ground Jay, Eurasian hoopoe (“oop oop oop”), the Mongolian Lark and  Mongolian Horned Lark, swifts, doves, sandpipers, Mongolian Finch, the gorgeous Wallcreeper,  flycatchers, the Pied and Isabeline Wheatears, buntings, the inconspicuous Rock Sparrow and more inhabit the rocky cliffs and shaded canyons .

Some are residents. Most are migrants that either pass through with the season or use the Gobi as a breeding ground. In Mongolia, there are 469 species of birds, including species which are also domesticated and linked to the wild ancestral species. Of these, 330 species are migratory and 119 are seen in Mongolia throughout the year.

One conspicuous resident, the Pallas Sand Grouse, has a remarkable specialization.  The feathers of its belly are specially adapted for absorbing and retaining water. This allows the adult sandgrouse, particularly the male, to carry water to chicks that may be many kilometers from any watering hole.

Each species has a story, both as unique as the land they occupy.  The following are only a few but significant Gobi bird residents, inhabiting various niches that affect their behavior, diet, breeding and conservation status.

Steppe Eagles (Aquila nipalensis)

Endangered

The Steppe eagle is a breeding resident of Mongolia, occupying dry habitat, steppes, desert, and semi-desert areas.

An inactive eagle or a smart eagle? This an eagle that may appear just inactive, since it spends much of its time perched on rock piles or telephone poles or just standing around on the ground.

This is a fairly large eagle - about 62–81 cm (24–32 in) in length and a wingspan of 1.7–2.2 m (5½ –7 ft).  Females, weighing in at 2.3–4.9 kg (5 –11 lb) are a bit bigger than males at 2–3.5 kg (4½ –7¾ lb). It has brown upperparts and blackish flight feathers and tail, not very distinguishing, however, the steppe eagle matures at about 6 years of age. Prior to maturity, there are two sets of age-related plumages after the white down plumage of juveniles. At 1 year, the color is light brown. Between 2-5 years, the plumage is reddish to darker “fawn” color. At 6+ years of age, feathers are dark brown. 

Steppe eagles mates for life and nests are moving up.  Typical of eagles, pairs mate for life. Breeding occurs in most parts of the range from April-August. Sites do vary. Traditionally, most nests were constructed on the ground, but increasingly, more nests have been constructed off the ground. Nests can now be found on the ground, in bushes, in trees, on rock columns, on cliffs, or in “anthropogenic” locations, like on abandoned cars, power poles, or artificial nest platforms.

The eagle builds a stick nest - considered flat looking.  The inside of the nest may be lined with old rags, bones, molted feathers, and camel dung.  In Mongolia, some nests are composed almost entirely of large mammal bones.  Clutch size is 1 – 3 white eggs with brownish markings; incubation is 45 days and starts with the first egg laid meaning one chick can be substantially larger than the others; fledging occurs at 55-65 days.

Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug)

Endangered

The saker falcon is a big, strong, ferocious bird of prey with big feet.

Saker females are markedly larger than males; females typically weigh 1135 g (2 ½ lb), have an average length of 55 cm (22 in), and a wingspan of 120 - 130 cm (5 ft). Males usually weigh 840 g (less than 2 lb), are about 45 cm long (18 in), and have a wingspan of 100 to 110 cm (3 ½ ft).

The bird simply called “saker” has variable colorations and white is a favorite. Color and pattern range from a fairly uniform base color of chocolate brown to cream with brown bars/streaks to brown-eyed leucistic individuals.  Leucism is a partial loss of pigmentation in an animal—which causes white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes, genetics especially prized by Arab falconers.

Generally, the saker is a raptor of open grasslands, preferably with some trees or cliffs, and hunts by “horizontal” pursuit, rather than like the peregrine's swoop from a height. Typically, the saker falcon consumes rodents and birds.

Male and female sakers bow.  To attract females, male sakers engage in spectacular aerial displays and call loudly.  When the male encounters a mate or prospective mate, they bow to each other. Many of their interactions incorporate some element of bowing. When wooing a potential mate, a male will fly around dangling prey from his talons or will bring it to the female in an attempt to prove he is a good provider.

Females lay 3–6 eggs in the old stick nest.  After the third egg is laid, full incubation begins and usually lasts for about 32 to 36 days.  Males are attentive. They often feed their mates during this nesting period. When eggs hatch, the chick’s eyes are closed but open after a few days. They have two downy nestling plumage before attaining juvenile plumage. Adult plumage is gained when a little over a year old, after their first annual molt.

Adult falcons live approximately 6 years but can live up to 20 years of age.



Mongolian Ground Jay  (Podoces hendersoni)

Locals call the Mongolian ground jay “Gobi Magpie”.  It is also known as Khulan Joroo. The Mongolian ground jay is considered a rare endemic bird species, only inhabiting the Gobi desert. Moltsog Els sand dune area in South Gobi is a well-known habitat for these beauties.

This ground jay is a distinctive corvid.  

The bird is about 30cm in length (12 in). It has a pale sandy head with a striking glossy black crown and nape. Upperparts of the body are sandy brown, with the richest color on scapulars, rump, and upper tail, a color scheme that plays an important role in camouflage.

The black and white wings are sometimes mistaken for Euroasian hoopoe, but the glossy blue-black tail stands out. It has a black, gently down-curved bill and dark brown eyes. This bird struts.

The Mongolian ground jay runs like a racehorse and likes the desert.  They have long, very strong legs adapted to fast running. They are agile leaping onto boulders and rocks. The ground jay prefers to run rather than fly from potential dangers.  

Breeding has been recorded from March to May. The nest is a bowl made of twigs and rootlets, placed low in a bush and rarely among boulders. The jay lays 3 - 4 eggs.

Eurasian hoopoe (Upupa epops)

Least concerned

It is the only extant member of its family, Upupidae. The hoopoe (Upupa epops) is an exciting and one of the most colorful birds found across Afro-Eurasia.  Of course, it’s notable for its distinctive "crown" of feathers. The name hoopoe comes after the sound they make.  The name is an onomatopoeic one, taken from the trisyllabic “oop-oop-oop” cry of the hoopoe. 

The flight of hoopoe is similar to butterflies.  The hoopoe is a medium-sized bird 25–32 cm (9½ –12½ in) long, with a 44–48 cm (17–19 in) wingspan. The species is highly distinctive, with a long, thin tapering bill that is black with a fawn base. The strengthened musculature of the head allows the bill to be opened when probing inside the soil. The hoopoe has broad and rounded wings capable of strong flight. It has a characteristic undulating flight, which is like that of a giant butterfly, caused by the wings half closing at the end of each beat or short sequence of beats.  It looks so much like a butterfly, its nickname is “the butterfly bird”.

Hoopoes like sunbathing. The hoopoe has two basic requirements of its habitat: bare or lightly vegetated ground on which to forage (and sunbathe) and vertical surfaces with cavities (such as trees, cliffs or even walls, nest boxes, haystacks, and abandoned burrows) in which to nest.

In what was long thought to be a defensive posture, hoopoes sunbathe by spreading out their wings, pressing their tail low against the ground and tilting their head up; they often fold their wings and preen halfway through. They also enjoy taking dust and sand baths.

The hoopoes may beat their prey against a favorite rock.  The hoopoe is a solitary ground forager for insects, although small reptiles, frogs and plant matter (seeds and berries) are sometimes taken as well.  These can range from 10 - 150 mm in length (0.5 – 6 in), with a preferred prey size of around 20–30 mm (~1 in). Most commonly their foraging style is to stride over relatively open ground and capture insects by “gaping”. During this action, the long tapered bill is first kept closed, then it is driven into the ground.  Strong muscles allow the bird to open its beak against the earth’s resistance while probing underground. It makes swift nibbling motions and the insect is captured. Before swallowing large prey items, the bird may stun them by battering them on the ground or a preferred stone. It consumes the prey then regurgitates the indigestible parts such as legs, wing cases, and thorax pieces, in the form of a small pellet.  More rarely they will feed in the air, where their strong and rounded wings make them fast and maneuverable when in pursuit of numerous swarming insects.

Hoopoes are monogamous, although the pair bond apparently only lasts for a single season.  They are also territorial. The male calls frequently to advertise his ownership of the territory. Chases and fights between rival males (and sometimes females) are common and can be brutal. Birds will try to stab rivals with their bills, and individuals are occasionally blinded in fights. 

The female alone is responsible for incubating the tiny, light-blue round eggs so the male is responsible for feeding the female. Incubation (15-18 days) begins as soon as the first egg is laid, so the chicks are born asynchronously. Chicks hatch with a covering of downy feathers but by about day three, feather quills emerge which become the adult feathers. The chicks are brooded by the female for 9 to 14 days and the female joins the male in the task of feeding young. They will fledge in 26 to 29 days and remain with the parents for about a week more. Baby hoopoes are far from helpless.  Young hoopoe chicks peek their heads out of their tree nest to get a snack from papa bird. He is not offended by their smell.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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