Pitta birds

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From the family of Pittidae

Pittas are considered as passerine birds and most of the birds are found in tropical Asia and Australia. Coming to the origin and meaning of the word "Pitta", the closest explanation is that the name may come from Andhra Pradesh district of India where in Telugu language the word is a common term referring to small birds.

 Pittas are roundish bodied birds with longish strong legs and long feet. Their tails are short and at the same time stout. The bills are straight & stout, some with slight decurve. This colorful birds are being sort after as caged birds. Some documents mentioned a figure of 48 birds recorded in the 19th century. Today, the record is still disputed but could be safely pegged as 32 species still remaining. Example of the their real existence was shown by official records about the sighting of the few remaining birds of the species of Gurney's Pitta in Khao Nor Cuchi in Thailand.

 
Rusty-naped Pitta Pitta oatesi
Giant Pitta Pitta caerulea
Banded Pitta Pitta guajana
Blue-banded Pitta Pitta arquata
Garnet Pitta Pitta granatina
Graceful Pitta Pitta venusta
Blue-headed Pitta Pitta baudii
Hooded Pitta Pitta sordida
Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha
Blue-winged Pitta Pitta moluccensis
Mangrove Pitta Pitta megarhyncha
 

Pittas are terrestrial birds hunting in the areas of the darker undergrowth. They are diurnal birds and roam their territory alone. Pittas are particular to calls, which is a weakness in that they will challenge the imitations of their calls. Earthworm is their favorite food followed by snails and insects. Pitta use their beak to pick aside aside leaves to reach food that are taking refuge under these shelters. Naturally they too, do dig in to locate earth worms. Could they locate these worms through the ability to smell?

 

1. Banded Pitta  Pitta guajana irena

 

Size & diagnostic markings:-

23 Cm. The Banded Pitta, roundish is 23 cm large. The upper part is warm brown while the under part is darker in shade. A center line on the crown is black otheriwse the crown and head side is bright yellow turning to bright orange towards the back of the head. Then from the breast to the vent on the blue-black background there would be orange-rufous breast bars. A white band along the wings, upper tail blue and a white throat.

 Distribution :-  

The bird is resident in the Greater Sundas. This is now a Malaysian bird as well though not easily encountered.

Habitats & preferences:-

This is a ground bird -  living in very secluded deep lowland forest. Mainly flat with wetland characteristic attracting wild boars. It is the leeches that survive on the wild boar presence that becomes the Pitta stable diet.

In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- 

Merapoh would be the prime site followed by Rengit . That is the first and everyone statement. I think the population of this bird is low and well scattered. Furthermore what ever bird present in the area must be so remote that their calls were never detected. More on the hunch of danger approaching, the bird would stop its routine. So its presence in that area is never detected. In the 2 places mentioned, the birds were well domesticated and continues calling attracted by playback.

Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-

 

Pictures of the Banded Pitta

 

Banded Pitta  # 1

Banded Pitta  # 2

Banded Pitta  # 3

Banded Pitta  # 4

Banded Pitta # 5

Banded Pitta  # 6

Banded Pitta  # 7

Banded Pitta  # 8

Banded Pitta  # 9

Banded Pitta  # 10

Banded Pitta  # 11

Banded Pitta  # 12

Banded Pitta  # 13

Banded Pitta  # 14

Banded Pitta  # 15

Banded Pitta  # 16

Banded Pitta  # 17

Banded Pitta  # 18

 
 My personal jottings on the Banded Pitta :-

Remote forest? - It is understandable as the Pitta is a very shy bird that remains in a small confine with almost no encroachment by humans. The forest floor needs to be wet and litters with fallen and decaying logs, a habitats encouraging colonies of creepies and crawlies which the Pitta depends on for food. The forest area at Merapoh has such an environment which support a few species of Pittas. In other places like Rengit, their presence in the area is very much dependence on hearing their calls.

This is an extremely sensitive and shy bird and could quickly assess the situation in event of a provocation. It is of no use in detecting their presence and luring them out from the hiding places. The bird by habit knows how to conceal their physical presence. It is more important that the birder, like the Pitta, stays out of sight to bring about a level of confidence before the Pitta willingly drops its cautious mode and comes out into the open momentarily.

The series of pictures below demonstrates the anxious instances when the bird was trying to break its covers.

 

2. Hooded Pitta  Pitta sordida muelleri

 

 

Size & diagnostic markings:-

18 Cm. This is another roundish bird with a very short tail measuring only 18 cm. The entire bird in dark pastel green with a dark brown crown and a thick black collar. A turquoise-blue stripe on the wing. From center of under part to the vent in bright red.

 Distribution :-  

 The bird breeds in north-eastern India South-west China, then the region of the Greater Sundas down south to Sulawesi and New Guinea. Also resident in south Thailand and northern peninsula Malaysia.

The bird is now seen for long period during the migratory season. I seem to detect a pattern of the same bird getting back to the same spot each year.

Habitats & preferences:-

A migrant which prefer lowland forest with isolated pools of waters.

 

In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- 

Have being seen in many places, mainly in Shah Alam Parks and near my house. This is a very friendly bird showing little fear for human being. The few places I mentioned are all near to human habitats or in one case a park frequented by people. Having said that still not easy for accidental encounter other than those working or exercising near the area frequently.

Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-

 

Pictures of the Hooded Pitta

 

Pitta Sordida cucullata

Hooded Pitta  # 2

Hooded Pitta  # 3

Hooded Pitta  # 4

Hooded Pitta # 5

Hooded Pitta  # 6

Hooded Pitta  # 7

Hooded Pitta  # 8

Hooded Pitta  # 9

Hooded Pitta  # 10

Hooded Pitta  # 11

Hooded Pitta  # 12

Hooded Pitta  # 13

Hooded Pitta  # 14

Hooded Pitta  # 15

Hooded Pitta  # 16

Hooded Pitta  # 17

Hooded Pitta  # 18

 
 My personal jottings on the Hooded Pitta :-

The Hooded Pitta is even smaller at 18 cm long. This is a bird from North-eastern India and western China, then another locality in south Greater Sundas and the Philippines. One more location is the Nicobar Island. This is a lowland bird and also a passage migrant in the Peninsula. Another sub-species the Pitta Sordida cucullata with a completely black crown is a resident in Borneo. This bird prefers open areas of the forest edge and old plantations.

This bird is accustomed to human presence and would choose small patches of hiding places in urban or near to urbanized area. A pre-requisite would be the availability of wet ground nearby. Once the surrounding area where the bird is hiding is devoid of human presence, the bird would leave its hiding place to scour the open ground for food. The bird would remain in the same spot for a couple of weeks and then continues on its way. This bird remind me of the Flycatcher that works within a small confine. The bird is also shy of human to a certain extend and would not easily come out from the comfort of its hiding place. When it comes to time for feeding, the bird would come out in the open, even with the knowledge of human being around. Birders at this point of time should not spook their confidence by making too much movement or approaching closer within their comfort zone.

It is frequently reported that the Pitta in it's night migration, crushed into window panes in urban places. That speaks much about its habits and choice of migration trails.

 

3. Blue-winged  Pitta  Pitta moluccensis

 

 

Size & diagnostic markings:-

20 Cm. The Blue-winged Pitta is larger at 20cm, less roundish body. It has a dark green upper part and a rufous under part with a patch of red starting from the center of the under side to the vent. Most prominent would be the black face buff brownish crown with a black line in the center. Then the broad bright blue stripe along the wings.

 

 Distribution :-  

The bird breeds in south-west China. It winters around Sumatra and Borneo.

Another Pitta that is frequently seen in Malaysia now during the migratory season.

Habitats & preferences:-

 This is a lowland bird of the forest edge and usually where there is a body of water nearby.

This Pitta do not seek remote jungle but flat lands with water sources and wet patches. So far most places spotted are in parks with human movements.

In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- 

There are several places in the public park like Shah Alam park, Melawati Hills and FRIM. Popular place seen is in an estate in Ulu Piap in Penang. Pitta are very cautious birds, even though appearing in places with lots of human movements, the birds still limits its sightings to certain time of the day. In other times could be foraging in spots away from sight.

Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-

 

Pictures of the Blue-winged Pitta

 

Blue-winged Pitta  # 1

Blue-winged Pitta # 2

Blue-winged Pitta  # 3

Blue-winged Pitta  # 4

Blue-winged Pitta # 5

Blue-winged Pitta  # 6

Blue-winged Pitta  # 7

Blue-winged Pitta  # 8

Blue-winged Pitta  # 9

Blue-winged Pitta  # 10

Blue-winged Pitta  # 11

Blue-winged Pitta  # 12

Blue-winged Pitta  # 13

Blue-winged Pitta  # 14

Blue-winged Pitta  # 15

Blue-winged Pitta  # 16

Blue-winged Pitta   # 17

Blue-winged Pitta  # 18

 
 My personal jottings on the Blue-winged Pitta :-

The Blue-winged is about 20 cm long. The bird breeds in South-western China and winters in Sumatra, Java and Borneo. This birds choose open country, parks and secondary forest in the lowland areas.

This Pitta could be a vagrant that chooses an environment with wet forest floor. Typical of all Pitta, it will seek small area of low bushes or obstacles as its hiding place and from that hiding place its hunting area an wide open space. Most likely scenario would be  a place with a small stream with tufted patches nearby.

The bird is fully accustomed to the presence of humans but seek not to make its appearance or being seen. Best time would be dawn or twilight but if the conditions permit, the bird would be out regularly throughout the day. This bird have some behavior of the Hooded Pitta, shy but not extreme as evading human presence. The bird do come out to the open even with the knowledge of human being around. This bird keep very safe distances and particularly sensitive to the human's movement.

 

4. Mangrove Pitta  Pitta megarhyncha

 

Size & diagnostic markings:-

21 Cm. The Mangrove Pitta sharing the same body shape and colorization with the Blue-winged Pitta is slightly larger at 21 cm. The features are almost identical with the differences listed out on the table above. Instead giving a brief run through, I have expanded the page and listing out the comparative differences between the 2 birds.

 Distribution :-  

 This is a bird from the Southern Bangladesh and Sumatra. To me those Mangrove Pittas I encountered in Pulau Indah seem migratory. getting to hear them calling during the winter months. But then again, only with the experiences of one or 2 season, their stay here is rather long too.

Habitats & preferences:-

As the name implies, this is a bird of the Mangrove forest. The catch is that the bird forages over a large area. Most times so far away that though in the same area, their presence is not detected as the calls are lost.

 

In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- 

In most mangrove forest where the calls could be heard. Its best to learn from birders or the locals whether such calls have being heard in any particular patch of the mangrove forest. Luckily or sadly there are not many patches of mangrove left in the whole Peninusla.

 

Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-

A comparison between the Blue-winged & Mangrove Pittas.

The Mangrove Pitta is about the same size as the Blue-winged Pitta at 21 cm. This is a bird from the South Bangladesh and Sumatra. It is seen exclusively in Mangrove areas.

 

The picture on the right shows the wing pattern of the Blue-winged Pitta with the blue banded stretching the length of the entire wing.

Below are pictures of the blue on the wings of the 3 different Mangrove Pitta.

The difference as how the area of the blue hue covers is obvious and helps in making the comparison between the Blue-winged and the Mangrove Pitta.

 

Blue-winged Pitta -winged

Mangrove Pitta 1

Mangrove Pitta 2

Mangrove Pitta 3

Throat & Chin - Blue-winged Pitta

The same set of 2 pictures shows the difference in the throats of the 2 Pittas.

Throat & Chin - Mangrove Pitta

Same set of pictures show the profile of the beaks of the 2 birds

Bill - Blue-winged Pitta

Bill - Mangrove Pitta

crown - Blue-winged Pitta

Lastly now looking at the crowns of the birds. The distinction between them is very clear.

crown - Mangrove Pitta

 

Pictures of the Mangrove Pitta

 

Mangrove Pitta  # 1

Mangrove Pitta # 2

Mangrove Pitta  # 3

Mangrove Pitta  # 4

Mangrove Pitta # 5

Mangrove Pitta  # 6

Mangrove Pitta  # 7

Mangrove Pitta  # 8

Mangrove Pitta  # 9

Mangrove Pitta  # 10

Mangrove Pitta  # 11

Mangrove Pitta  # 12

Mangrove Pitta  # 13

Mangrove Pitta  # 14

Mangrove Pitta  # 15

Blue-winged Pitta  # 16

Blue-winged Pitta   # 17

Blue-winged Pitta  # 18

 
 My personal jottings on the Mangrove Pitta :-

The Mangrove Pitta like most Pitta calls regularly and it is these calls that confirms its presence in the area. In Air Itam Dalam in Penang, I had met up with the birds a couple of times without hearing its calls. These encounters were very brief as the bird is a shy bird eagerly wanting to stay out of sight.

But with the bird in Pulau Indah, these Pittas were almost domesticated displaying quite a different behavior. There was also other Mangrove Pitta in another part of Pulau Indah showing the conventional Pitta behaviors of shying away from humans.

I am happy that in this age of electronic advancement, making out the real ID of birds is not a mystery especially with the minor deviation. In the table above, I could make out the subtle differences between the Blue-winged and the Mangrove Pitta. The result? The differences were so obvious and not a matter of guest work.

 

5. Garnet Pitta  Pitta megarhyncha

 

Size & diagnostic markings:-

15Cm. The head side with the throat is black. Then there is bright scarlet crown. The nape and the belly is red.

The rest of upper part is purplish and the under part the breast is purplish black. A thin light blue line borders the crown and another blue patch on the wing

 

 Distribution :-  

This bird is native to the Island of Borneo and Sumatra. Now it is in Peninsula malaysia as well.

 

Habitats & preferences:-

This is more lowland forest bird. Still preferring flat lands but not necessary wet land. Just heavy forest with lots of wild boars.

In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- 

I find that the bird though not sighted easily but is very common. Judging from the frequency their calls were heard, I would say that it is present in most forest in most states that I do my birding. Just identify its call and be patient, the bird would be flying off to the next perch in a short time. Only catch is like I mentioned earlier, the birders needs to well prepared. The bird could drop by near where the calls is heard, do a quick assessment! When human is sighted then, the calls used for luring is rendered uneffective.

 

Record of bird's call :-    and Video:-

 

Pictures of the Garnet Pitta

Garnet Pitta  # 1

Garnet  Pitta # 2

Garnet  Pitta  # 3

Garnet  Pitta  # 4

Garnet  Pitta # 5

Garnet  Pitta  # 6

Garnet  Pitta  # 7

Garnet  Pitta  # 8

Garnet  Pitta  # 9

 
 My personal jottings on the Garnet Pitta :-

The Garnet Pitta like most Pitta is very territorial and as a result, when ever its call is detected, there is a good chance that the bird would be eventually sighted. Pitta, dumb bird in a way, in responding to calls easily are also very cautious birds. They could detect the presence of aliens and would seek ways to camouflage its movement. Meaning, the bird would momentarily cease its calling quickly get to a vantage point to verify the environment. Then again retreat to another safe site to continue its calling from the new spot.

 

Pittas are very difficult birds to meet up with. Their discreet lifestyles and their strong sense of detecting the presence of predator helps them is staying out of sight. They are around but remains unseen. It is not true that all Pittas choose the dark undergrowth of deep impenetrable forest. On the contrary, there are those few preferring open areas in and around urbanized places as well. So it is extreme when coming to choice of hiding places in remote forests or next to our house but all Pittas are good in staying out of sight.

It is not about the pain taken to reach these inaccessible spots for one - but the method to be used by birders to stay out of sight. Any action taken should be able to convince the Pitta to return to their normal routine. Otherwise it would a sad and frustrating situation involving hours of the bird calling and birds waiting just to catch an occasional glimpses. No opportunity at all for photography.