News and Information on Birding Sites Throughout Thailand and the Andaman

Blue-winged Pitta

Everyone loves pittas so why not celebrate the start of the monsoon with a Blue Winged Pitta?

This wet-season breeding visitor is one of two pittas which migrate to Thailand to breed between the months of April and October. These stocky-built birds are not graceful in flight and since their method of flight requires more stamina than that of migrants which utilize gliding or soaring, pittas require more frequent “pit stops” to refuel and replenish their energy. Yet despite their frequent stops along the migration route, most birds still find a way to remain almost invisible. In fact, some birders find it hard work to uncover even one of these gorgeous birds.

The Blue winged Pitta Pitta moluccensis is a passerine, found throughout southeast Asia from southern China to the northern tip of Australia. As a terrestrial feeder, it prefers to stand with an upright posture. Its upright carriage can sometimes make its 20 cm. size look larger than it really is.

The Blue winged Pitta is one of four species which form a superspecies (a group of species which share striking similarities and may be difficult to tell apart from one another), the others being Mangrove Pitta, Indian Pitta and Fairy Pitta. Birders in Thailand need not worry about misidentifying these four species; for one, Indian Pitta is not found in the country so you can cross that off the list. Fairy Pitta lack the broad blue band on the primaries and has a more rufous cap; even at distance it is relatively easy to see the differences. It also is a rare passage migrant in Thailand so chances of encountering it are slim. That leaves local and visiting birders to contend with only two species: the Mangrove and Blue Winged Pitta.

Mangrove and Blue winged Pitta share many similarities and are often mistaken for one another by birders who are unfamiliar with the subtle differences. For one, the calls are basically identical; body size and plumage features are also pretty much similar. Birders attempting to differentiate between the two should look at the bill and the crown of the birds. Mangrove Pitta sports a slightly longer, narrower bill which it uses to snatch fish and crustaceans from the mud. Blue winged Pitta has a stubbier, black bill which it uses to dig up its prey, primarily earthworms and grubs. The crown of the Blue winged Pitta is black with a broad pale-brown band which encompasses the crown. The Mangrove Pitta also has a similar band on the crown but lacks the black on the top of the head. Instead of black, the crown is rather a dark brown in color.

Blue winged Pittas are different from other pittas in that they are equally as comfortable in the trees as they are on the ground. Calling birds are almost always spotted in trees; the pitta almost never calls from the ground or while feeding.

The call of the Blue winged Pitta is a two syllable kwa-WOU with the emphasis on the second syllable. In April and May the birds are extremely responsive to playback but be forewarned; these birds can often smell a ruse and be gone long before you can even get a glimpse of them.

Nests are spherical in shape and are usually placed low to the ground although in some instances they can be as high as three meters off the ground. Young birds are fed a diet of worms and insects and the strong ones migrate with their parents in October. The runts are often left behind and overstay in Thailand for the winter. Like other pittas, they rarely call in the winter months and are not responsive to playback at the time.

The above photo was taken by Ian Dugdale and used with his permission.

This photo above was taken by Peter Ericsson in a garden near Khao Yai National Park and was used from his site with his permission. I like this one as the bird is fluffing its feathers, giving it a more “candid” appearance, so unlike its usual regal and handsome self.

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    Special Thanks to Peter Ericsson, Ian Dugdale, Weine Drotz and Hermann Drotz for contributing their photos to this website. All photos displayed in this website are used with permission from the owner.
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