The blue-banded pitta has already got its Christmas jumper on
Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
MEET THE blue-banded pitta (Erythropitta arquata), a highly decorated species of songbird hailing from Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia.
Known as the ‘jewel of Borneo’, these charismatic birds are shaped like portly gentlemen, their round bodies giving them a rather jolly countenance. Their patterning is truly something special – that bright red is the perfect backdrop for the light blue ‘necklace’ that sits across its chest.
It’s not just the males that sport this festive attire – the females have similar patterning, but the upperparts of their wings and tail are a slightly different colour.
Despite their garish looks, these birds are not often spotted in wild. As a result, scientists are still discovering the basics of their social behaviour.
Just last year, for example, researchers observed some blue-banded pittas performing ‘non-vocal sonations’ – making noises without calling – to communicate with each other. In one instance, after the bird had been calling for a few minutes, it lifted its wings up, puffed up its belly feathers, and beat its wings on its belly like a drum.
It’s not clear exactly why they do this, but the researchers observed similar behaviour by the blue-banded pitta’s close relative, the black-crowned pitta (Erythropitta ussheri), another beautiful species, endemic to the island of Borneo.
Pitta birds (family: Pittidae) are found throughout Asia, Australasia, and Africa, and they share the same short, stout bodies, and often have brightly coloured plumage.
A well-known Australian pitta bird is the noisy pitta (Pitta versicolor), which is found along the east coast, from up in the Torres Strait Islands and the Cape York Peninsula, to down near the New South Wales/Victoria border. The species is also found in southern New Guinea.
Pitta birds are closely related to one of the best bird families out there – the broadbills (Eurylaimidae), which make the blue-banded pitta’s colouring look positively conservative by comparison.
Here’s some lovely footage of a blue-banded pitta, showing off its puffiness: