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Pittas in Thailand
 
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For many birdwatchers in Thailand, and other parts of the tropics, a sighting of a pitta species is the pinnacle of a day's birdwatching. Indeed, when I first arrived in Thailand the conversation with other birdwatchers I would meet always quickly progressed to whether any pittas had been spotted. Unfortunately, these birds are very difficult to find, and this, combined with their intense beauty makes them so desirable.

Thailand has twelve species of pitta which are of varying difficulty to find and anyone who has seen all twelve in Thailand would be a very accomplished birdwatcher indeed! Below are notes on all twelve of Thailand's pitta species, including where birdwatchers are most likely to encounter them. I have listed them in the order they appear in Craig Robson's "A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand"
Pittas of the World by Johannes Erritzoe
If anyone wants any further advise on how to find pittas in Thailand please don't hesitate to contact me for help: nickupton@thaibirding.com
1. Eared Pitta Pitta phayrei

Eared Pitta
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)
  Eared Pitta is an uncommon resident and rarely seen by visiting birdwatchers. However, in Lekagul and Round it is listed as an uncommon to common resident and it may be that the low number of sightings is due to the fact that its habitat below 900 metres is not as widely visited as it might be.

Sightings do occur from Khao Yai National Park, particularly from the trails that are close to the headquarters and Eared Pitta has also been photographed from Kaeng Krachan National Park too: I have seen and heard it between streams 2 and 3 near Ban Krang on several occasions, particularly in the breeding season.

Eared Pitta has also been photographed on a number of occasions from blinds around Kaeng Krachan; a morning or afternoon in one of these blinds can be arranged through the owners of Ban Maka.
A number of tourist lodges around the southwest edge of Khao Yai have access to low level forest and at one of these, near Nakorn Nayok, Peter Ericsson photographed an Eared Pitta - so this is perhaps an option for those determined to get a sighting.

Despite the fact that Eared Pitta is not commonly seen in Thailand it is fairly widespread, but mainly confined to regions rarely visited by birdwatchers. Its international conservation status is "Least concern" as classified by IUCN.

Unless you are very lucky you will have to be very determined and focused to see Eared Pitta in Thailand.

Take a look at this video clip of an Eared Pitta taken in Khao Yai National Park in 2004: Eared Pitta clip.

More Eared Pitta photos here: Eared Pitta.
2. Blue-rumped Pitta Pitta soror

Blue-rumped Pitta
(Photo by James Eaton/Birdtour Asia)
  Blue-rumped Pitta is confined, in Thailand, to the extreme southeast of the country. The most accessible place for birdwatchers to find this species is Khao Soi Dao in Chantaburi province, although there are a few other national parks in the region which have limited visiting access where it may also be found: Khao Kitchakut and Khao Srabab. Very few visiting birdwatchers (or resident birders) get to see this pitta as Khao Soi Dao is not a heavily visited area which is a shame as the habitat is of excellent quality.

Whilst Blue-rumped Pitta has a very restricted range in Thailand and is an uncommon resident, it has quite a large range, stretching from south east Thailand, through Indochina and into China itself. The conservation status is listed as "least concern" by the IUCN.

More Blue-rumped Pitta photographs here: Blue-rumped Pitta.
3. Rusty-naped Pitta Pitta oatesi

Rusty-naped Pitta
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)
  Rusty-naped Pitta is one of the more frequently recorded pittas in Thailand, although few people are lucky enough to get much of a view of it due to its highly secretive nature.

Although confined to the north and west of Thailand, a number of well-visited sites offer a chance to see this species. At Doi Chiang Dao Rusty-naped Pitta used to be frequently seen at the beginning of the "nature trail" and in the temple gully. Rather too many people have resorted to playing the bird's call at this location and now I havent heard of any sightings there for some time. Quite a few observations of Rusty-naped Pitta occur along the jeep trail at Doi Inthanon: listen out for its "chow-wit" call! A number of sightings have also occurred along the tracks at Chong Yen campsite at Mae Wong National Park; myself and others have found this bird at Doi Ang Kang, Doi Suthep, Doi Lang and other suitable areas of habitat in the north. Rusty-naped Pitta has also been found and photographed on the nest at Kaeng Krachan National Park ; I saw one at Km 28 in April 2010.
Since 2011 a Rusty-naped Pitta has performed well at a stakeout at Mae Wong national park - contact the rangers for details and they will help you. Another stakeout at Doi Lang produced regular sightings through winter 2012-13.

Rusty-naped Pitta is one of the most infrequently "observed" pittas in Thailand, it is an uncommon resident whilst the international listing of Birdlife International is of "least concern".

Rusty-naped Pitta can be a very difficult bird to see properly; whilst there are many "sightings" after talking to many of those who have observed the bird, it seems very few people get much more than a glimpse.
4. Giant Pitta Pitta caerulea

Giant Pitta
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)
  Giant Pitta is a very rare resident and very seldom seen by visiting or resident birdwatchers alike. This species is confined to evergreen forests of the lowlands in the peninsula and has been seen on a very few occassions at Kaeng Krachan National Park although it is almost a mythical bird at this location. It has also been videoed at Khao Nor Chu Chi some years ago and a few have also been lucky enough to see Giant Pitta on the riverside loop accessible from the research centre at Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary.

In March 2011 I was lucky enough to see a female Giant Pitta on two occasions when the forest was extremely dry and the only water was a few puddles in the stream bed between stream crossings 2 and 3. Others also saw the male during this time and perhaps these are the best conditions under which to find this bird.

Whilst Giant Pitta is a rare resident and probably endangered in Thailand due to lowland deforestation it is only listed as "near threatened" by the IUCN and as with many other lowland specialists it is far more likely to be encountered in Malaysia or Indonesia.

Don't come to Thailand expecting to see a Giant Pitta, other countries will give you a better chance.
More photos of Giant Pitta here: Giant Pitta. 
5. Blue Pitta Pitta cyanea

Blue Pitta
(Photo by Chaiwat Chinparawat)
  Blue Pitta is one of Thailand's more common pittas, occurring in moist forest from the plains to about 1500 metres. This species is frequently observed by determined visiting birdwatchers at Khao Yai National Park on numerous different trails and Kaeng Krachan National Park close to the campsite at Km 15 in damp gulleys and similar spots and myself and others have also seen this bird a number of times at Nam Nao. Whilst Blue Pitta's range includes most of the west and the north, as well as the south east and parts of the northeast, it is absent from most of the south.

The Blue Pitta's call is "pleoow-whit" but particularly at Kaeng Krachan and parts of Khao Yai replays of this call are being overused meaning that many individuals are no longer reacting, making them very difficult to see.

Reflecting its situation as a fairly common resident, the Blue Pitta's international conservation status is "least concern" as stated by the IUCN.
Whilst Blue Pitta is elusive and hard to observe, it is fairly abundant and those who are determined should eventually get a good view of this species.

More Blue Pitta photographs here: Blue Pitta.
6. Banded Pitta Pitta guajana

Banded Pitta
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)
  Banded Pitta is one of the most beautiful species in Thailand and is confined to forest up to 610 metres in the southern peninsula. Never an easy species to find, most sightings of Banded Pitta in Thailand are from Khao Nor Chu Chi which has more to do with the number of visitors to this location than its abundance. Those searching for this species would do well to visit Khao Sok National Park or Krung Ching Waterfall where very reliable stakeouts for Banded Pitta exists and other quality areas of forest in the south such as Hala-Bala, Sri Phang Nga and Thalebun have also provided some lucky birdwatchers with a view of this pitta.

This species has a soft call which consists of a falling "pouw" followed by a whirring "kirrr" and it is said that Gurney's Pitta responds to the playback of Banded Pitta's call. For this reason birdwatchers at Khao Nor Chu Chi should avoid the use of this species call.

The status of Banded Pitta is as an uncommon resident and internationally it is classified as "Least concern" by the IUCN.
Banded Pitta is one of the most findable Pittas in Thailand and those who are determined should see one in the south.

Take a look at Jan Wilczur's fabulous painting of a Banded Pitta.

More photos of Banded Pitta here: Banded Pitta.
7. Bar-bellied Pitta Pitta elliotii

Bar-bellied Pitta
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)
  I am not aware of any sightings of Bar-bellied Pitta in recent years and certainly not by holidaying birdwatchers, indeed it appears that it may never have been seen in the wild in Thailand - known only from an individual in a market in Ubon Ratchatani. This species has a severley restricted range in Thailand occurring only in the extreme southeast and east of the country in forest below 400 metres. With the destruction of almost all forest below this altitude there are only a very few patches of habitat left close to the Cambodian border. For those determined to find this bird in Thailand a couple of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Ubon Ratchatani province may be the place to look.

Despite Bar-bellied Pitta being endangered in Thailand its international conservation status is listed as "least concern" by the IUCN due to its extensive range through Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

More Bar-bellied Pitta photographs here: Bar-bellied Pitta.
8. Gurney's Pitta Pitta gurneyi

Gurney's Pitta
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)
  The small population of Gurney's Pitta still holds out at Khao Nor Chu Chi, near Krabi, with around 15 estimated. Although a few individuals may still hold out in nearby forest fragments and a large population has been discovered in Myanmar, KNC is the best chance for most birders to see this species.

Most birders make the frustrating wait on U-trail in order to get a glimpse of Gurney's Pitta but there are also frequent sightings from some of the other nearby, but overgrown, trails and also from B-trail so don't spend your whole time sat in a mosquito infested puddle on U-trail!

Gurney's Pitta is now classified as endangered by Birdlife International but it remains important to refrain from using taped or imitated calls to lure it into view as too many people do. There are fewer and fewer independent sightings of Gurney's Pitta these days, although some people have seen it in the breeding season - most people hire the assistance of Yothin Meekao to see this bird.

Take a look at Jan Wilczur's fabulous painting of a Gurney's Pitta.

More photos of Gurney's Pitta here: Gurney's Pitta.

Gurney's Pitta was voted the most sought-after bird in Thailand by visiting birdwatchers: Gurney's Pitta, Thailand's most wanted bird.

9. Hooded Pitta Pitta sordida

Hooded Pitta
(Photo by Thomas Ruedas)
  Hooded Pitta is a wet season migrant to most of Thailand although it is present throughout the year in the peninsula. It occurs far further north than the distribution maps in either Robson's or Lekagul & Round's field guides but is not often seen by visiting birdwatchers. I have seen this species in the temple gully at Doi Chiang Dao in early May and it has been seen breeding as far north as Chiang Saen. As with many other pittas, Hooded Pitta has been photographed a number of times at nests at Kaeng Krachan, where it can be fairly easy to find just after it arrives in late April and May, and also at Khao Yai National Park and any site in the south could provide a sighting of this species. Hooded Pitta seems to be found more or less annually at Phuttamonton Park just outside Bangkok in the early wet season.

Hooded Pitta calls in a similar manner to many other pittas with a "fluty raew-raew" similar to that of Blue-winged Pitta.

In Thailand Hooded Pitta is an uncommon to locally common bird and its international status is listed as "least concern" due to its large range from India and Nepal in the west to Japan in the east and as far south as Papua New Guinea.
In the wet season Hodded Pitta can turn up anywhere and its habit of calling from within trees makes it relatively easy to see for a Pitta from May-July/August.

More Hooded Pitta photographs here: Hooded Pitta.
10. Garnet Pitta Pitta granatina


Garnet Pitta
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)
  Confined to broadleaved evergreen forest below 200 metres in the Malay peninsula, the only place in Thailand this fantastic bird is likely to be found is in Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary along the river accessible from the research station. This very rare resident exists probably in only very small numbers in Thailand due to deforestation of the lowlands.

Those lucky enough to get to the extreme south of Thailand to look for this bird should listen out for its drawn out monotone whistle, which is very similar to that of Malaysian Rail-babbler, along lowland river valleys. A few people, including myself, have been lucky and found Garnet Pitta at the Bala section of Hala-Bala Wildlfie Sanctuary where it is should be looked for along the rather leech-infested trail across the stream at the rear of the research station. This species usually calls from elevated perches and in thorny palms.

Although in Thailand Garnet Pitta is almost certainly endangered, the Red Data Book lists it, internationally, as "near threatened" and it is much easier to find in Malaysia, Indonesia, particularly in Borneo.

More Garnet Pitta photographs here: Garnet Pitta.
11. Blue-winged Pitta Pitta moluccensis

Blue-winged Pitta
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)
  Blue-winged Pitta is perhaps Thailand's most common pitta species, although it is not seen by too many visiting birdwatchers as it mainly spends the dry season in Malaysia and Indonesia although small numbers are resident in the south. This bird is regarded as a common wet season breeder and can be found in all sorts of places during migration, even turning up in parks and gardens in Bangkok. For visiting birders one of the best chances of finding Blue-winged Pitta is at Khao Nor Chu Chi in April/May when it is often seen in the garden of the Morakot resort as well as on the trails. Although this site accounts for many sightings this species can be found over a large part of the country in the breeding season and is particularly common at Kaeng Krachan in May-July.

The international status of Blue-winged Pitta reflects its abundance in Thailand as it is listed as "least concern" by the IUCN with a range stretching from India, through China to The Philippines.

By far the easiest Pitta in Thailand at the right time of year (May-July) when it is common in many places and calls from high in trees.

More Blue-winged Pitta photographs here: Blue-winged Pitta.

12. Mangrove Pitta Pitta megarhyncha

Mangrove Pitta
(Photo by Peter Ericsson)
  Although restricted to mangroves on the west coast of the southern peninsula, Mangrove Pitta is probably one of the easiest pittas to find in Thailand. Its habit of sitting high up in mangrove trees and calling makes it reasonably easy to spot if you can get into the right habitat. Many birders see this species in Krabi on a boat trip with Mr Dai who has been able to find this bird for many people, although he seems to be putting in less effort these days. There are also some reliable spots for Mangrove Pitta at Ao Phang Nga National Park, accessible a few kilometres south of Phang Nga town, where there are several boardwalks and jetties that one can walk into the mangroves or take a boat trip - I am told that the pitta is easily found here. Others have seen this species in Phuket, near Takua Pa and Kuraburi - anywhere that one can get into mangroves along the western coast is worth a look.

Internationally Mangrove Pitta is listed by the IUCN as "near threatened" as, although its range stretches from Bangladesh to Indonesia, its mangrove habitat continues to be destroyed in all countries it occurs in.
In the breeding season this is a fairly easy Pitta to find. Outside of the breeding season...........

More Mangrove Pitta photographs here: Mangrove Pitta.
13. Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha

Fairy Pitta
(Photo by Alnus)
  Fairy Pitta is known from only one record, in Thailand, at Phuttamoton Park near Bangkok when one individual stayed from 11th to 17th April 2009 and was widely observed and photographed.

The arrival of Fairy Pitta was something of a surprise and may never be repeated again, although at the same time a few other birds which winter in Borneo also showed up in Thailand, so if the weather conditions are ever right again in April it could be worth a closer look at any Blue-winged Pittas that appear in parks and gardens.

Internationally Fairy Pitta is listed by the IUCN as "vulnerable" as, its habitat is subject to deforestation in its breeding range and its population is thought to be only a few thousand individuals.

More photos of Fairy Pitta can be seen here: Fairy Pitta.
14. Blue-naped Pitta Pitta nipalensis

Blue-naped Pitta
  Blue-naped Pitta was predicted as a possible addition to the Thai bird list in Round & Lekagul's A guide to the Birds of Thailand and was finally discovered on 1st March 2009 at around 900m above sea level at Pu Suan Sai national park, Loei province.

This species has not yet been photographed in Thailand and was found in thick bamboo forest, so the opportunities for viewing it and photography are not good. It has been seen by just a handful of observers and very few have even heard it. I was lucky enough to hear one call twice at Pu Suan sai in early July 2010 but the dense bamboo and rampant leeches gave me no chance to see the bird - I have been told that this species calls from trees and other elevated perches.

It is quite possible, even likely, that Blue-naped Pitta occurs in a few other areas of northern/northeastern Thailand.

Internationally Blue-naped Pitta is listed by the IUCN as "least concern" as it has a very wide range throughout Asia even though it is thought to be declining in many areas.

Photos of Blue-naped Pitta can be seen here: Blue-naped Pitta.
 
 Birdwatching Trips
  The best time to look for pittas in Thailand is in the breeding season and the lead up to it. Most of my Pitta sightings are between the end of January and August.

Anyone requiring assistance in finding pittas or any of Thailand's other species should take a look at the suggested itineraries for ideas on possible trips: view details or can contact me nickupton@thaibirding.com

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 Some Useful Books
Birds of Thailand by Craig Robson Birds of Southeast Asia by Craig Robson Pittas of the World by Jhannes Erritzoe

A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand by Philip D. Round & Boonsong Lekagul
   
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