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    Birds of the Month

  (ORDER: Passeriformes, FAMILY: Pittidae)
Blue Pitta Pitta cyanea copyright Kanit Khanikul
  The Pittas, often called, ‘the jewel thrushes’ of the forest, are amongst the most gaudily coloured birds. These stub-tailed birds of the forest are found in Asia, Australia and Africa. . We can generally describe pitta’s features as 15-25 cms, brightly patterned, strong and slightly decurved bill, short neck, stocky and stout body, short and rounded wings, very short or rather stubby-tailed, long legged and large footed thrush-like bird. All pittas are terrestrial foragers and feed on invertebrates.

32 species of the pittas are found in the world and of which six are found in our sub-
  continent.They are: Eared Pitta, Blue-naped Pitta, Blue Pitta, Hooded Pitta, Indian Pitta and Mangrove Pitta.  
  Blue-naped Pitta
Pitta nipalensis (25 cms)
Blue-naped Pitta Pitta nipalensis
  A very secretive and skulking bird and is the largest amongst our pittas. Found in Nepal, Arunachal Pradesh, North East India and Bangladesh. The call is a loud double whistle ‘whoo-wooee’. Male and female are slightly different in colouration. While the male has a blue hind-crown and nape, fulvous forehead and eye-coverts, the female has a smaller greenish-blue patch on the nape and its fulvous forehead extends upto crown. The juvenile is dull coloured. It is a rare bird and most of the recent records are from Kathmandu valley. It affects tropical, sub-tropical secondary evergreen and bamboo jungles and densely overgrown clearings. It is found also in Arakan Yomas, Northern Burma, North Vietnam.

(ID mantra – Blue nape, greenish back, fulvous underparts)
  Blue Pitta
Pitta cyanea (23 cms)
  A gaudy, blue coloured large pitta. Resident and seasonal local migrant. Confined to North East India and Bangladesh from plains and foothills upto 2000 meters. Very few recent records. It is also found from Burma to Thailand and extends to Indochinese countries Song is a clear liquid double whistle ‘pleoow-whit’ and call note is ‘skyeew’ Sexes are different. Male has pinkish red patch on hind-crown which female may sometimes lack, shining blue upperparts and black spotting with blue wash to whitish underparts, female has dull greenish upperparts. Juvenile is dull coloured with dark eye-stripe, dark brown in general appearance with whitish throat. It affects dank ravines and scrubby undergrowth in mixed tree and bamboo forest in evergreen biotope.
(ID mantra – red-naped, blue winged pitta.)
Blue Pitta (Male) Pitta cyanea copyright Kanit Khanikul
Blue Pitta (Female) Pitta cyanea copyright Kanit Khanikul
  Hooded Pitta
Pitta sordida (19 cms)
Hooded Pitta Pitta sordida copyright Narayan
  This multicoloured Pitta has been recently sighted in Corbett Tiger Reserve in June 2004 and in Dehradun. Both sexes are similar though juvenile is a little different. The adult has black head, chestnut crown and nape, green breast and flanks, scarlet vent and belly with black abdomen patch, large white patch in wing in flight. Juvenile has a mottled cap, dirty white throat and brownish chin and a large white patch on median coverts. Song is a loud, explosive double-whistle ‘quek-quek’ or ‘wieuw-wieuw’, plains and foothills upto 2000 meters, probably a summer visitor to the Himalayan foothills ranging from Himachal Pradesh to Arunachal Pradesh, NE India and Bangladesh, is common in Chitwan (Nepal) but rare in India. Chiefly resident with some seasonal altitudinal and dispersal movements. It affects sub-tropical moist deciduous and evergreen secondary forest and scrub jungle.

Breeding takes place from April to June. The nest is like that of Indian Pitta – a loosely put-together ball of bamboo leaves, lined with grass and leaves, normally placed on the ground in thick cover under bamboo clumps etc in dense secondary jungle.
  Birders should be on the lookout for this bird and every sighting should be reported.
(ID mantra – Black-headed, red-vented, green-breasted).
  Indian Pitta
Pitta brachyura (19cms)
  The commonest of the pittas found in India, it has red vent and belly, can be identified by its very prominent black eye-stripe and white throat and thin supercilium, black centre to crown with buff lateral crown stripes, head pattern is unmistakable. Buffish underparts and greenish upperparts. In flight shows white wing-patch, which is smaller than Hooded Pitta’s. It is endemic to our sub-continent. In summer it breeds upto 1200 meters in the Himalayan foothills (nearest to Delhi being Morni, Kalka and Kalesar in Haryana, Dehradun and Corbett in Uttaranchal, Sariska in Rajasthan), from Pakistan, India, Nepal to Southern Rajasthan and North Karnataka; winters in south India (up to 1700 meters) and in Sri Lanka, its status in NE India is not clear. It has a double-noted whistling call is a ‘pree-treer’, the first note sharper and the second one falling. The call is uttered mostly in the early morning and late evening and throughout the day in cloudy weather. Several birds answer one another in the distance. Breeding takes place from May to August. The nest is a large globular structure made of twigs, roots, grass etc, placed in the forked branch of a small tree 3-4 meters and sometimes upto 10 meters height from the ground; rarely on the ground in scrub jungle, under shelter of a bush.

Members must keep their eyes open for this bird and report every sighting as it is also declining in numbers. It affects scrub jungle, semi-cultivation and patches of light deciduous and evergreen forests. It roosts in low trees. Hops about on ground like a thrush rummaging amongst the dead leaves and digging into the wet earth with the bill for insects and grubs and on being disturbed flies up into a branch with whirr of wings, sitting motionless, only the stumpy tail wagging slowly and deliberately up and down like some mechanical toy according to Salim Ali.
(ID mantra – black eye-stripe, red-bellied greenish pitta)
Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura copyright Alka Vaidya; 8 to 11 may 2006
Indian Pitta (Male) Pitta brachyura copyright Jan Ole Kriegs
Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura copyright Dipankar Ghosh
  Mangrove Pitta
Pitta megarhyncha (20 cms)
Mangrove Pitta Pitta megarhyncha copyright KC Yian; 2002
  This Pitta superficially resembles the Indian Pitta, in having a dark eye-stripe and whitish throat, but has a more powerful and longer bill; the longest amongst our pitta species. The crown is uniform rufous-brown. The upperparts are darker green, while the wing patch is very large and is conspicuous in the primaries in flight. Male and female are similar, juveniles have brownish green upperparts. The call is a loud through slurred ‘tae-laew’. A very local resident in the Sunderbans. It is also found in Southern Myanmar, Malay Peninsula and Sumatra. It affects thin tree jungle with sparse undergrowth, mangrove swamps, gardens and plantation etc. In our area, it is a non-breeding migratory pitta

(ID mantra – largest billed, brown-capped Pitta)
  Eared Pitta
Pitta phayrei
  Only one record from Bangladesh, of a juvenile.  
Eared Pitta (Male) Pitta phayrei copyright Kanit Khanikul
  Reference; F. Lambert: Pittas, Broadbills and Asities (Helm)

Written by Suresh C Sharma
General editors: Bill Harvey and Bikram Grewal

delhibird would like to thank Jan Ole Kriegs, Kanit Khanikul, KC Yian, Dipankar Ghosh and Narayan for allowing us to use their photographs to illustrate this article. Nigel Redman for giving us permission to use the Blue-naped Pitta illustration.

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