The beautiful Gurney’s or black-breasted pitta (Pitta gurneyi) is one of the world's most endangered birds, due to its tiny declining population (4). Both sexes have golden-brown wings and backs, and the tail is turquoise blue (5). Males have an iridescent blue nape and hindcrown, whilst the forecrown, face, sides of the head and belly are black, and the flanks are yellow with black barring (6). Adult Gurney's pitta females have ochre-yellow crowns, a dark eye patch and the breast and belly are buff coloured with black bars (6). Juveniles are rufous-brown (7) and speckled, and have a black mask (5). The typical contact and alarm call is 'skyeew' and males also produce short ‘lilip’ territorial calls (5).
This shy, elusive species is mainly a ground-dwelling bird (2). Gurney's pitta adults forage for worms, slugs, snails and a variety of insects by flicking leaf litter aside with their bill; occasionally probing the soil surface (4). When alarmed they rapidly bound or fly away close to the ground (2). Breeding occurs in the wet season, and nests have been found between May and August with a peak in June (4). These domed constructions of dry leaves and sticks have been observed both on the ground (4) and in spiny Salacca palms (8). A clutch contains between three and five eggs, which are chiefly incubated by the female (4). Shortly after the eggs hatch, the male takes charge of the feeding duties and also provides food for the female (4). Breeding success is low with an average of one chick per clutch being raised (4).
Gurney's pitta is endemic to peninsular Thailand and southern Myanmar. At present, the only certain and viable population occurs in a small area known as Khao Nor Chuchi, in the province of Krabi, Thailand. The species had not been seen for many years until it was rediscovered in 1986 (2). Recent figures state that numbers have declined to just nine breeding pairs in 1997, from 44 to 45 in 1986 (8).
Gurney’s pitta inhabits lowland semi-evergreen rainforest and shows a preference for narrow dense valleys with little or no undergrowth. There is also a strong association with gully systems and the resulting moist conditions that persist throughout the year (4).
The main cause of the decline of Gurney's pitta was the massive deforestation that has occurred in peninsular Thailand. By the middle of the 1980s, just 4.7 percent of the original forest cover remained (4). Hunting, disturbance by humans and trade are also believed to have played a part in the decline (4). Deforestation continued illegally in Thailand throughout the 1990s and several Gurney’s pitta territories were destroyed as a result (4).
A wildlife sanctuary was established in 1993, but much of the habitat of Gurney's pitta was excluded. In 1990, the Khao Nor Chuchi Lowland Forest project was established, this is a socio-economic community-level conservation and development project, the aims of which are diverse. Achievements include the creation of more wildlife friendly areas amongst a mosaic of cultivation, tree planting, supporting forest protection workers and promoting sustainable agriculture (4). However difficulties have plagued the project. It is clear that unless drastic action is taken and the crucial 30 kilometre squared area of suitable habitat is completely protected soon, this species will become extinct (4).
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