Indian pitta

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Indian pitta
Indian pitta (Pitta brachyura) Photograph by Shantanu Kuveskar.jpg
Indian pitta in Maharashtra, India
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Pittidae
Genus: Pitta
P. brachyura
Binomial name
Pitta brachyura
(Linnaeus, 1766)

Corvus brachyurus Linnaeus, 1766[2]

The Indian pitta (Pitta brachyura) is a passerine bird native to the Indian subcontinent. It inhabits scrub jungle, deciduous and dense evergreen forest. It breeds in the forests of the Himalayas, hills of central and western India, and migrates to other parts of the peninsula in winter. Although very colourful, it is usually shy and hidden in the undergrowth where it picks insects on the forest floor. It has a distinctive two note whistling call which is heard at dawn and dusk.[3] It is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List as the population is considered large.[1]


The Indian pitta was first known in England after an illustration by an Indian artist was sent by Edward Bulkley to James Petiver and given the name of "Ponnunky pitta" (in Telugu: పొన్నంకి పిట్ట). This illustration was included by William Derham at the end John Ray's posthumous Synopsis methodica avium which was published in 1713.[4] The bird was again described and illustrated by Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760 and George Edwards in 1764.[5][6] The Latin names coined by Brisson do not conform to the binomial nomenclature and are not recognised by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.[7] In 1766, Carl Linnaeus included the Indian pitta in his Systema Naturae and citing earlier publications and coining the scientific name Corvus brachyura.[8] Linnaeus specified the type location as "Moluccis" and "Zeylona". The Maluku Islands is an error as the Indian pitta does not occur there.[9] The generic name Pitta was proposed by Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in 1816 for birds with a short tail, a straight pointed beak and long wing feathers.[10] It is a monotypic species.[11]


The word 'pitta' is derived from the Telugu language meaning 'small bird'.[12] The specific name brachyura is a combination of the classical Greek words βραχυς brakhus 'short' and -ουρος -ouros '-tailed'.[13]

Local names in India are based on the colours and behaviours like the time of calling and these include Hindi: Naorang, Punjabi: Nauranga (=Nine colours), Bengali: Shumcha, Cachar: Dao bui yegashi, Gujarati: Navaranga or Hariyo; Tamil: Kaachul, Aru-mani kuruvi (=6-O'Clock bird), Kathelachi, Thotta kallan; Telugu: Polanki pitta, Ponnangi pitta; Malayalam: Kavi; Kannada: Navaranga and Sinhala: Avichchiya.[14] The Sinhala interpretation of its call is that the bird is complaining about the theft of its dress by a peacock: Evith giya, evith giya, ayith kiyannam, methe budun buduwana vita ayith kiyannam,which translates as: "Came and went! Came and went! I'll still be complaining when the next Buddha comes! I'll still be complaining!"[15]


Thomas Hardwicke's illustration - "short-tailed pelta" (1834)

The Indian pitta is a small stubby-tailed bird that is mostly seen on the floor of forests or under dense undergrowth, foraging on insects in leaf litter. It has long, strong legs, a very short tail and stout bill, with a buff coloured crown stripe, black coronal stripes, a thick black eye stripe and white throat and neck. The upperparts are green, with a blue tail, the underparts buff, with bright red on the lower belly and vent. The bird hops on the ground to forage and has been known to get trapped in ground traps meant for small mammals.[16] It has been suggested that the width of the coronal stripe may differ between the sexes.[17]

It is more often heard than seen and has a distinctive loud two-note whistle wheeet-tieu or wieet-pyou or sometimes, a triple note hh-wit-wiyu. They also have a single note mewing call.[3] They have a habit of calling once or twice, often with neighbouring individuals joining in, at dawn or dusk leading to their common name of "Six-O-Clock" bird in Tamil.[18] When calling the head is thrown back and the bill is pointed upwards.[19]

Pittas are among the few Old World suboscine birds. The Indian pitta is the basal member of a distinct clade that includes many of the Oriental species.[20] It forms a superspecies with the fairy pitta (P. nympha), mangrove pitta (P. megarhyncha) and blue-winged pitta (P. moluccensis).[21]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

A bird being measured at Point Calimere
Indian pitta in Kadigarh National Park, Bhaluka

The Indian pitta breeds mainly in the Himalayan foothills from the Margalla hills in northern Pakistan to Nepal and possibly up to Sikkim in the east, and in the hills of central India and in the Western Ghats south to Karnataka.[22][23][24] It migrates to all parts of peninsular India and Sri Lanka in winter. Exhausted birds sometimes turn up in human settlements.[19] It is rare in the Thar Desert.[25]

Ecology and behaviour[edit]

Indian pittas roost in trees.[23] They feed on insects and other small invertebrates that they usually pick up from the ground or leaf litter. They have also been noted to take kitchen food scraps from the ground.[26]

They breed during the south-west monsoon from June to August, with peaks in June in central India, and in July in northern India.[27] The nest is a globular structure with a circular opening on one side built on the ground or on low branches. It is made up of dry leaves and grasses. The clutch is four to five eggs which are very glossy white and spherical with spots and speckles of deep maroon or purple.[19][23]

Avian malaria parasites have been noted in the species.[28] Five out of thirteen birds in an ectoparasite survey were found to have the tick, Haemaphysalis spinigera.[29]

Their seasonal movements associated with the rains have not been well studied.[3]


  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2016). "Pitta brachyura". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22698681A93696932. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22698681A93696932.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ Dickinson, E. C.; Dekker, R. W. R. J.; Eck, S. & Somadikarta, S. (2000). "Systematic notes on Asian birds. 5. Types of the Pittidae". Zoologische Verhandelingen. 331: 101–119.
  3. ^ a b c Ali, S.; S. D. Ripley (1983). Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan. Vol. 4 (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 252–253.
  4. ^ Ray, J.; Derham, W. (1713). "Avium Maderaspatanarum". Joannis Raii Synopsis methodica avium (in Latin). London: Impensis Gulielmi Innys. p. 195.
  5. ^ Brisson, M. J. (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, especes & leurs variétés (in French and Latin). Vol. 2. Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. pp. 316–318, Plate 31.
  6. ^ Edwards, G. (1764). Gleanings of Natural History, Exhibiting Figures of Quadrupeds, Birds, Insects, Plants &c. Vol. 3. London: Printed for the author. p. 242, Plate 324.
  7. ^ Allen, J.A. (1910). "Collation of Brisson's genera of birds with those of Linnaeus". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 28: 317–335. hdl:2246/678.
  8. ^ Linnaeus, C. (1766). Systema naturae: per regna tria natura, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. Volume 1, Part 1 (Twelfth ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 158.
  9. ^ Traylor, Melvin A. Jr., ed. (1979). Check-list of Birds of the World. Vol. 8. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 324.
  10. ^ Vieillot, L. J. P. (1816). "137. Brève, Pitta. Corvus Linn. Gm. Lath.". Analyse d'une Nouvelle Ornithologie Élémentaire (in French). Paris: Deterville/self. p. 42, Num. 137.
  11. ^ Erritzoe, J. (2016). "Indian Pitta (Pitta brachyura)". In del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliot, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C.; Boesman, P.; Kirwan, G. M. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Vol. 2: Passerines. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
  12. ^ Newton, A. (1893). "Pitta". A dictionary of birds. London: A. and C. Black. pp. 727–729.
  13. ^ Jobling, J. A. (2019). "Key to Scientific Names in Ornithology". In del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D. A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  14. ^ Anonymous (1998). "Vernacular Names of the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent: 867. Indian Pitta". Buceros. 3 (1): 53–109.
  15. ^ Bandara, C. M. M. (2009). "Exploring the link between culture and biodiversity in Sri Lanka". SANSAI: An Environmental Journal for the Global Community. 4: 1–23. hdl:2433/110021.
  16. ^ Prabhakar, A. (1998). "An Indian Pitta (Pitta brachyura) trapped in a standard Sherman live trap". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 95 (1): 114–115.
  17. ^ Harper, E. W. (1902). "The sex of the Bengal pitta Pitta brachyura". Avicultural Magazine. 1 (1): 29.
  18. ^ Lambert, F. (1996). "Identification of pittas in the brachyura complex in Asia". OBC Bull. 23: 31–37. Archived from the original on 2008-06-04.
  19. ^ a b c Whistler, H. (1949). Popular Handbook of Indian Birds (4th ed.). Gurney and Jackson. pp. 275–277.
  20. ^ Irestedt, M.; Ohlson, J. I.; Zuccon, D.; Källersjö, M. & Ericson, P. G. P. (2006). "Nuclear DNA from old collections of avian study skins reveals the evolutionary history of the Old World suboscines (Aves: Passeriformes)" (PDF). Zoologica Scripta. 35 (6): 567–580. doi:10.1111/j.1463-6409.2006.00249.x.
  21. ^ Wells, D. R. (2007). The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Volume 2. London, UK: Christopher Helm. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-7136-6534-5.
  22. ^ Islam, K. (1978). "Sighting of the Indian Pitta (Pitta brachyura) in Pakistan". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 75 (3): 924–925.
  23. ^ a b c Rasmussen, P. C.; J. C. Anderton (2005). Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. pp. 295–296.
  24. ^ Pande, S. A. (2001). "The Nesting of Pitta brachyura in the Konkan Maharashtra". Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 41 (4): 48–49.
  25. ^ Singh, H. (2004). "Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura in the Thar Desert". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 101 (2): 319–320.
  26. ^ Devasahayam, S.; Devasahayam, A. (1989). "A note on the food habits of the Indian Pitta". Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 29 (5&6): 8.
  27. ^ Bentham, R. M. (1922). "Breeding of the Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura and the Streaked Wren-Warbler Prinia lepida". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 28 (4): 1135.
  28. ^ Valkiunas, G.; M. A. Pierce (2000). "The status of Plasmodium corradettii Laird, 1998 (Haemosporida: Plasmodiidae): a malarial parasite of birds". Systematic Parasitology. 45 (2): 141–143. doi:10.1023/A:1006271710771. PMID 10743858.
  29. ^ Rajagopalan, P. K. (1972). "Ixodid Ticks (Acarina: Ixodidae) parasitizing wild birds in the Kyasanur forest disease area of Shimoga District, Mysore State, India". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 69 (1): 55–78.

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