There was no sign of the pitta when we arrived at the alleged ‘spot’. We sat for a while and then, sure enough… we heard the tell-tale scratchings.
There he was – bouncing around, noisily scratching through the leaf litter. Seemingly unaware of us he continued foraging; picking out worms and small snails and smashing them against the same smooth, large rock.
Each time he fluttered back to his anvil he displayed his amazing colouration – bright turquoise wings and deep red undertail feathers. It’s remarkable that a bird with such striking plumage can still be so cleverly camouflaged when he wants to be.
We have seen glimpses of Noisy pittas before, usually in dense rainforest around Conway and Cape Hillsborough NPs, and have found them to be quite shy and cautious of obtrusive twitchers. It can be especially frustrating considering their distinct call always lets you know they are there!
They call more actively throughout mating season in spring and summer. Around October, mating pairs build an intriguing dome-shaped nest lined with moss and leaves, tucked safely in-between tree roots. To deter predators the pair disguise the nest by covering it in debris. They line the ‘entrance’ with mammal dung (to throw predators off the scent) and constantly preen around the nest removing feathers and faeces which might otherwise give them away.
Pittas are not skilled fliers (they only rarely fly to low perches to call), which begs the question – how and why did this pitta end up at our local botanic garden, a long way from his rainforest home? Whatever the answer, he seems quite pleased with himself – surrounded by a botanical haven and an abundance of food.
Habitat clearance is the biggest threat that pittas face, and this sighting further reminds us of the importance of vegetation corridors in allowing animals to safely move between habitats, especially in urban environments. Another huge threat to pittas (as with many other natives) is predation by cats – so always keep your kitty inside at night!