Fairy Pitta

The fairy pitta (Pitta nympha) is a small, ground-dwelling passerine bird of the family Pittidae. It breeds in east Asia, and migrates south for the winter. A small number of birds pass through Hong Kong each year on their migrations.

Description and Distribution

The fairy pitta is a very colorful bird, with green wings marked by bright blue in varying sizes. It has a brown crown, black eye-stripe, and a red vent. They are not sexually dimorphic. They are sometimes mistaken for blue-winged pittas, which do not usually appear in Hong Kong, though the blue wing of the latter pitta is much more vibrant. Additionally, the bird is larger, and its belly is more yellowish.

These birds breed in eastern or northeast Asia from April to September before then wintering in Southeast Asia from October to March. Fairy pittas are rather localized in both their breeding and wintering grounds, despite how widespread they are. Their most-studied breeding sites are in South Korea and Japan, with migration routes being fairly well-understood.

Behavior and Ecology

Fairy pittas are territorial, and will observe their territory from a high branch. They feed mostly on ground-dwelling insects and worms, but will also eat other small insects such as snails, lizards, and frogs.

Fairy pittas are listed as vulnerable according to the IUCN due to a steep and noticeable population decline. We don’t know exactly how many fairy pittas are left, but estimates range between barely 1000 and up to 10,000. The direct human causes of the fairy pitta’s population decline are fairly well-understood and localized, with documented human disturbances such as deforestation and dam flooding in southeast China and Taiwan respectively directly accounting for some population loss. Of course, without knowing exactly how many are left, it’s difficult to understand exactly how these birds are affected by such events.

Conservation efforts in Japan and Korea, their most valuable breeding grounds, are underway, but more would need to be done elsewhere, particularly in its wintering grounds such as Borneo, in order to secure the future of this beautiful bird.