The Jewish state's national bird is the hoopoe (duchifat in Hebrew), after being chosen in a national election process that stretched over six months, and which was initiated by the Society for Protection of Nature. The winner was declared by President Shimon Peres, whose own last name refers to a vulture.
The hoopoe, a crested bird with a unique appearance which is mentioned in Jewish legends about King Shlomo (Solomon) and the Queen of Sheba, is common throughout Israel. According to legend, the hoopoe is capable of cutting through stone, and is referred to as "nakar turia," or mountain chiseler, in the Talmud. Legend also has it that when its beak breaks, the hoopoe can continue chiseling through rocks with its folded crest - hence its name duchifat, which means "two beaks" in Aramaic. Ethiopian Jews called it the "Moses Bird" and believed it would carry them to Jerusalem one day.
The hoopoe is unafraid of human beings, but when in danger, it makes a hissing sound and secretes a foul-smelling liquid. Its friendly nature may have been the deciding factor in the elections: the final vote tally shows it far ahead of the competition, in what some analysts say is the result of generations of "campaigning" in which it wandered alongside Israeli children on innumerable footpaths.
The final contestants who made it through the bird primaries in December 2007 were the night owl (tinshemet), red falcon (baz adom), spur-winged plover (siksak), griffon vulture (nesher), finch (chochit), kingfisher (shaldag), bulbul, warbler (pashosh), the honey-sucker (tzufit), and, of course, the hoopoe.
Land of a billion wings
The candidates were chosen out of about 540 species of birds which populate Israel's skies regularly. Israel is considered a world center for bird-watching. Because of Israel's central location between three continents and astride the Syria-Africa fault line, more than 500 million birds cross its skies annually. The contest was birthed by The Society for Protection of Nature, which decided that Israel needed a national bird of its own, just like other avian superpowers such as Egypt, the U.S.A., Mexico, Iraq and Austria.
A public committee with representatives from the academic world, government ministries, writers and schoolchildren's representatives determined 25 percent of the vote. The rest of the vote was determined through a combination of public voting through the internet, voting by 70,000 children in the nation's schools, and thousands of soldiers who voted at their bases and through text messages. Votes were also cast by 20 Knesset members and Israeli diplomats in 40 cities worldwide.
David Shouhami, teva.org.il
The hoopoe received 35 percent of the vote, trailed by the tiny warbler with 10.3 percent and the finch with 9.8 percent. The honey-sucker, spur-winged plover, bulbul, griffon vulture and red falcon each received about 7 percent of the vote, the night owl got 4.8 percent and the kingfisher barely flew in, with just 3.5 percent.