The wood hoopoes or scimitarbills are a small African family, Phoeniculidae, of near passerine birds. They live south of the Sahara Desert and are not migratory. While the family is now restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa, fossil evidence shows that it once had a larger distribution. Fossils attributed to this family have been found in Miocene rocks in Germany.
The wood hoopoes are related to the kingfishers, the rollers, and the hoopoe, forming a clade with this last according to Hackett et al. (2008). A close relationship between the hoopoe and the wood hoopoes is also supported by the shared and unique nature of their stapes. The wood hoopoes most resemble the true hoopoes with their long down-curved bills and short rounded wings. According to genetic studies, the two genera, Phoeniculus and Rhinopomastus, appear to have diverged about ten million years ago, so some systematists treat them as separate subfamilies or even separate families.
These are birds of open woodland, savannah, or thornbrush, and are mainly arboreal. They require large trees both for feeding on as well as to provide hollows for nesting and nocturnal roosting. Two species are found exclusively in rainforest, the forest wood hoopoe and the white-headed wood hoopoe. All the other species are found in more open woodland and bush.
They feed on arthropods, especially insects, which they find by probing with their bills in rotten wood and in crevices in bark. They nest in unlined tree holes, laying two to four eggs, which are blue, grey, or olive, and unmarked in most species.