The Fairy Pitta (Pitta nympha) is a a small brightly colored pitta that breeds in Japan, South Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan and winters mainly on the island of Borneo. Migrants have been recorded from North Korea, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. The total population of Fairy Pittas is small and declining, mainly as a result of deforestation in its breeding range. (BirdLife International 2000; Erritzoe 2003)
The Fairy Pitta (Pitta nympha) breeds in Japan (where it is rare), in South Korea (where it is rare and local), in mainland China (where it was formerly locally common in southern China), and in Taiwan (where it is uncommon to rare, though formerly more common; hundreds of migrating individuals are still seen each year). It winters mainly on the island of Borneo, where it is present from October to March. Migrants have been recorded from North Korea, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, but migration routes are poorly understood. Birds leave Japan in August and September and return in mid-May. Some birds from Japan and South Korea may travel only as far as southern China, but observations of large numbers of individuals in Taiwan in the spring during the 1980s suggest the existence of non-breeding areas farther south. Some birds may be year-round residents in southeastern China. (BirdLife International 2000; Erritzoe 2003 and references therein) For detailed and up-to-date information on the distribution of the Fairy Pitta see BirdLife International's Red Data Book: threatened birds of Asia online.
The brightly colored Fairy Pitta (Pitta nympha) has emerald-green back, shoulders, and secondaries; cobalt-blue rump, upper tail coverts, tip of tail, and lesser wing coverts; a large red patch on creamy yellow underparts; a broad black stripe through the eye; a yellow supercilium ("eyebrow"); and a brown crown (Massey et al. 1982).
Habitat and Ecology
The Fairy Pitta breeds in subtropical forest. Its patchy distribution suggests that it has specialized habitat requirements. In Japan it breeds mainly in moist broadleaved evergreen forests with thick undergrowth, especially near streams, near the coast (mostly below 500 meters elevation). In South Korea, it also breeds in dense moist forests near the coast, but is found up to around 1200 meters. In Taiwan, it is found in sparsely populated wooded areas and bamboo groves up to around 1300 meters. In its non-breeding range, it occurs in mixed dipterocarp forest and primary forest up to around 1100 meters. (BirdLife International 2000; Erritzoe 2003 and references therein)
The Fairy Pitta feeds on leaf-litter invertebrates. Reported food items include earthworms, beetles, ants, centipedes, snails, and small crabs, among other items (see below). In captivity, it has been observed using a stone as an "anvil" to crush snail shells. (BirdLife International 2000; Erritzoe 2003; Lin et al. 2007 and references therein).
Lin et al. (2007) studied the diet of Fairy Pitta nestlings in Taiwan by videotaping 8 broods from 2000 to 2002. Adults usually brought nestlings 1 to 3 items at each feeding visit and prey sizes was usually between 2 and 10 cm in length. The total number of feeding visits for a brood was estimated to be around 900 to 1000 based on a brood observed for the entire nestling period. Earthworms (of several species) were the most important food item for all broods and occurred in more than 73% of feeding visits (earthworms have been found to be a major component of the diets of a number of other pitta species, as well). However, the occurrence of earthworms decreased with nestling age in 1 brood that was observed during drought conditions, possibly due to a decline in earthworm abundances during this dry period. Lepidoptera (larvae, adults, and probably pupae) were the second most frequent identifiable food item. The remaining invertebrate taxa were only rarely recorded, but included slugs, snails, spiders, stoneflies (Plecoptera), centipedes (Scutigeromorpha and Scolopendromorpha), fly (Diptera) larvae, freshwater crabs, praying mantids (Mantodea), dragonflies (Odonata), whip scorpions (Thelyphonidae), beetle (Coleoptera) adults and larvae, and grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets (Orthoptera). Vertebrates accounted for just 4% of the nestlings' diet, but these prey included included frogs, lizards, small snakes, and a small shrew. (Lin et al. 2007 and references therein).
Life History and Behavior
The reported breeding season of the Fairy Pitta runs from May to July in Japan and Taiwan and from May to June in Korea. The domed nest may be up to 45 cm wide and 40 cm high, with a side entrance. It is constructed mostly of twigs, with a few leaves, and lined with moss and finer materials. There is sometimes a platform of twigs in front of the entrance. The nest is placed between about 2 and 7.5 meters above the ground in the fork of a tree or in a rock cleft. The clutch consists of 4 to 6 creamy white eggs with fine purple-brown spots. Both parents feed the young. (Erritzoe 2003 and references therein).
Evolution and Systematics
Systematics and Taxonomy
The Fairy Pitta (Pitta nympha) forms a superspecies with the Indian Pitta (Pitta brachyura), the Blue-winged Pitta (P. moluccensis), and the Mangrove Pitta (P. megarhyncha). Historically, these have often all been treated as a single species, but differences in morphology, plumage, and vocalizations have led to the recognition of these forms as distinct species. (Erritzoe 2003)
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
The total population of Fairy Pittas is small and declining as a result of extensive lowland deforestation in its breeding range (mainly due to agriculture and timber harvesting, as well as uncontrolled burning). Historically, the Fairy Pitta was trapped extensively for the cagebird trade in Taiwan and hunting is a threat in China. Human disturbance is a problem in Taiwan and South Korea. The Fairy Pitta is legally protected in mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. The total population is probably just a few thousand individuals, almost surely fewer than 10,000. (BirdLife International 2000; Erritzoe 2003 and references therein)
CITES Appendix II. It is legally protected in mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, North Korea and South Korea. It occurs in a number of protected areas across its range, notably Keoje Island Natural Monument, the main breeding site in South Korea. BirdLife International and the Wild Bird Federation Taiwan have successfully lobbied against gravel extraction at Huban-Hushan IBA in the past and are now campaigning against the proposed Hushan Dam Project at the same site. Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey its breeding range to establish its population size, distribution and occurrence in protected areas. Research its ecology, including its habitat requirements, with the aim of developing appropriate forest management regimes in protected areas where it occurs. Protect remaining areas of forest where this and other threatened species occur and ensure they are suitably managed. Ensure adequate protection of forest in existing protected areas holding this species and prevent hunting and trapping within them. Continue to lobby against the proposed Hushan Dam project.
Lin et al. (2007) studied the effectiveness of playbacks in censusing the Fairy Pitta (Pitta nympha) during the breeding season in Taiwan. They found that during the early breeding season, playbacks substantially increased the likelihood of detecting Fairy Pittas. The use of playbacks increased both the number of stations at which pittas were detected and the number of pittas detected per station. Playbacks improved the detectability of the Fairy Pitta at a station by 50%, 71%, and 29%, in early, mid-, and late May, respectively. The authors concluded that playbacks are a valuable censusing tool, but that it is important to census Fairy Pitta populations during the pre- to early nesting period. Although they found that a 5 minute playback at a station was sufficient and could be carried out at any time of day, they suggested that a visit in both the morning and afternoon might increase survey reliability and provide a better estimation of population density.
Distribution and habitat
Status and conservation
This bird is classified as vulnerable by BirdLife International, with an estimated population of between 2,500 and 10,000 individuals. Its population is inferred to be rapidly declining due to deforestation in its breeding range, principally for agriculture and timber, locally compounded by trapping for the cagebird trade.
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