Several striking plumage and structural features make this medium-sized bird unmistakable. The plumage on the chest varies from pinkish to chestnut, while the broad, rounded wings, the back, and the tail are boldly barred black and white. The spectacular erectile crest is the same color as the head and tipped with black. The bill is long, slender, and decurved; modified musculature allows it to be opened when the bird probes for food. The tongue is reduced. Hoopoes have shorter legs, better suited to their ground-foraging habits.
The sexes are extremely similar. Juveniles are duller than adults, the white in the wings is tinged with cream and the crest and bill are relatively short. Nestlings have long, fluffy white down covering their entire bodies.
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