The word bird (in Arabic “at-Tayr“) is mentioned in the Glorious Quran 5 times and the word birds (Tuyour) occur in the Noble Quran 13 times.
Among the birds, the hoopoe (hud-hud in Arabic) has been specifically mentioned twice in Surat An-Naml, in the following manner: “And he sought among the birds and said: How is it that I see not the hoopoe, or is he among the absent?” (Surat An-Naml: 27:20).
“But the hoopoe tarried not far: he compassed (territory) which thou has not compassed and I have come to thee from Saba with tidings true.” (Surat An-Naml: 27:22).
The hoopoe is an elegant bird, which is related to the hornbill. It gets its unusual name from its shrill call of “hoops”, which rings clear and far and is repeated two or three times. Often the cry is cut off very short.
This may be caused by the bird’s bill sharply striking the ground at the end of the note. It is one of the Old World’s non-passerine birds. Its scientific name is “ Upupa epops” (family Upupidae, of the roller order, Coraciiformes).
King—fishers, bee—eaters, rollers, hoopoes and hornbills are collectively referred to as roller—like birds. There are about seven species of hoopoe.
It is a widely distributed bird located in the British Isles, Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. It exists in the temperate and tropical regions of the Old World.
Messenger of Prophets
Prophet Solomon was a king and the ruler of Syria and Palestine whose armies consisted of troops made of men, Jinn and birds. It is possible that the birds were employed for communicating the messages, hunting, and for other suitable services.
In the Quran (27:20) we read that Prophet Solomon reviewed his birds and found the hoopoe (hud-hud) missing. His most mobile arm was the birds, which were light on the wing and flew and saw everything like efficient scouts.
Prophet Solomon expressed his anger and his desire to punish the hoopoe severely if it did not present itself before him with a reasonable excuse. Within a short while the hoopoe returned saying,
“I have obtained knowledge of things which you have no knowledge. I have brought sure information about Saba (Sheba, a well-known rich people of southern Arabia, now the present day Yemen. Their capitol city was Ma’rib which lay about 55 miles to the northeast of Sana, the present capitol of Yemen). There I have seen a woman ruling over her people: she has been given all sorts of provisions, and she has a splendid throne. I saw that she and her people prostrate themselves before the sun, instead of Allah!“
Prophet Solomon said, “ We shall just now see whether what you say is true, or that you are a liar. Take this letter of mine and cast it before them; then get aside and see what reaction they show.” (Qur’an: 27: 27-28).
Here ends the role of the hoopoe. Some people have interpreted that hoopoe (hud-bud) was the name of a man and not a bird, because a bird could not possibly be endowed with such powers of observation, discrimination and expression that it should pass over a country and should come to know that it is the land of Saba, it has such and such a system of government, it is ruled by a certain woman (Bilquis), its religion is sun-worship, that it should have worshipped One God instead of having gone astray, and then on its return to Prophet Solomon it should so clearly make a report of all its observations before him.
The counter-argument is that in spite of great advances in science and technology, man cannot tell with absolute certainty what powers and abilities the different species of animals and their different individuals possess?
Man hasn’t so far been able to know through any certain means what different animals know and what they see and hear; what they feel, think and understand; or how the mind of each one of them works.
Yet, whatever little observation has been made of the life of the different species of animals, it has revealed some of their wonderful abilities.
Now, when Allah, Who is the Creator of these animals, tells us that He had taught the speech of the birds to one of His Prophets and blessed him with the ability to speak to them, and the Prophet’s taming and training had so enabled a hoopoe (hud-hud) that it could make certain observations about foreign lands and could report them to the Prophet, then the above said interpreters should be prepared to revise their little knowledge about the animals in the light of Allah’s statement.
Books such as “When Elephants Weep” and other books on dogs, cats, and ants throw light on animal intelligence, thinking, and behavior.