Whiskered pitta (Pitta kochi)
|Also known as:||Koch’s pitta|
|Spanish:||Pita de Koch|
|Size||Length: 22 – 23 cm (2)|
|Weight||116 g (2)|
Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
Despite their brightly coloured plumage, pittas are known to be secretive birds (4). A pale brown stripe that extends downwards from the base of the stout, dark bill looks somewhat like whiskers, giving this species of pitta its common name (2). Apart from these ‘whiskers’ and a rusty orange patch on the back of the head and neck, the head is dark brown (2) (5). The rest of its plumage is dull olive-green on the upperparts, this dreary plumage contrasting strongly with the striking blue plumage on the breast and the beautiful, bright scarlet underparts (5). The tail is dull blue and a small patch of white is visible on the whiskered pitta’s wings when in flight (2). Female whiskered pittas have paler scarlet underparts than males, while juveniles have significantly different plumage, being mostly dark brown, with just paler brown spotting on the breast (2). Being such a secretive ground-dwelling bird, the whiskered pitta is said to be most easily located by its pigeon-like call, which is a series of deep, mournful notes, which grow lower and faster (2) (5).
The whiskered pitta is found only on the island of Luzon in the Philippines (2), where it occurs in the mountainous areas of the Cordillera Central, Sierra Madre and Bicol regions (5).
A ground-dwelling inhabitant of montane and submontane forest, the whiskered pitta is found between 300 and 2,350 metres, and shows a preference for areas with dense undergrowth on steep slopes. It tolerates areas of forest which have been selectively logged and degraded, and is often found in areas where wild pigs are also present (2).
Like all pittas, this Philippine species forages for food on the forest floor, flicking aside dead leaves with its bill and digging into the moist soil (2) (6), often watching and listening with its head cocked to one side (2). It is known to feed on small beetles, but may also feed on other invertebrates living in the soil and leaf litter (2). Often found in areas inhabited by wild pigs, the whiskered pitta may take advantage of the holes dug by the pigs, which exposes potential food (2).
Nests of the whiskered pitta have been reported situated on the ground, or in a bush no more than one metre above the forest floor (2). Local people have reported that this small bird lays its eggs in early February, March and May, and adult whiskered pittas have been observed carrying food, presumably to feed their young, in April (6).
Numbers of the whiskered pitta are thought to be declining (2), the result of extensive habitat loss compounded by local hunting (5). All of the Philippine Islands were once entirely forested (7), but as of 1988, only an estimated 24 percent of Luzon’s forest remained (5). The collection of rattan (palms that are widely used in furniture making), chainsaw logging, and the clearance of forest for agriculture have all impacted the habitat of the whiskered pitta (6). Plans to build major roads also pose a threat to this species (5).
Several protected areas hold populations of the whiskered pitta, including Mount Data and Mount Pulog National Parks, Northern Sierra Madre National Parks and Mount Isrog National Park (2). Unfortunately, this does not protect this Vulnerable bird entirely from the threat of habitat degradation, with logging, burning and destructive activities being recorded within these areas (2) (5). The whiskered pitta is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), prohibiting any international trade in this species (3), although this sadly does not mitigate the threat of hunting by local people. Finally, the whiskered pitta was included in the ‘Only in the Philippines’ campaign, a project of the Haribon Foundation and Manila Times, which involved feature endemic Philippine species in the Manila Times, to raise awareness amongst local people of the unique fauna and flora that live alongside them (8).
For learn more about conservation in the Philippines and find out how you can help visit:
- Haribon Foundation:
- Philippine Endemic Species Conservation Project:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
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- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Invertebrates: animals with no backbone.
IUCN Red List (November, 2011)