Blue-winged Pitta catching a snail

on 27th December 2008

An earlier post on the Hooded Pitta (Pitta sordida) with a land mollusc in its bill, a new food record, encouraged Ender to send an image of a Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis), also with a mollusc that he took earlier this year.

Again, this is another new food record for the Blue-winged Pitta. Wells (2007) mentions only earthworms as its food. Earlier posts similarly show earthworms being collected by the bird (1, 2, 3).

The image was taken at the Singapore Zoological Gardens near the Komodo Dragon display. The pitta just hopped around looking for food and Ender was able to get to about a metre from the bird. Very uncharacteristic of the bird. The bird took a while to smash the shell of its snail, after which it took it into the undergrowth to eat. So no image of the pitta actually swallowing the shelled snail.

Wells, D.R., 2007. The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. II, Passerines. Christopher Helm, London. 800 pp.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

6 Responses

  1. Quite interesting. I would like to know how the bird broke the snail’s shell. Did the photographer photograph the bird as it was breaking the snail’s shell? I would recommend that the birders witnessing similar behavior collect & save the snails’ broken shells. If it can be established that birds create a characteristic breakage pattern in the shells of their prey snails, then that information will be useful to determine the identity of the predator when only broken shells are found.

  2. hi Aydin,

    i don\’t have the pix of pitta breaking the went deeper in the undergrowth and block by a fence. i cant get it..better luck next time!

  3. I am glad that Ender has given us some account of the Blue-winged Pitta smashing the snail shell and also accurately pointed out that he did not see more detail of this nor the snail actually eaten. Photographs are really great but often they only show part of a sequence of behaviour. If the photographer does see more than he or she photographs, then a written record made at the time and added to the photographs can be a very useful record, particularly a written record which clearly indicates the limits of what was seen. Not everything has to be documented by photographs, provided the written record is precise, detailled and written immediately or the same day. Conversely, photographs are often over-interpreted. A lovely photo of a Hooded Pitta with a snail was posted up a few days ago, but was this really a photo of the bird “eating” a snail? Was it documentation of a food source? There was no description of the snail being smashed, let alone the particular technique used, or of the snail being swallowed. Birds are inquisitive and learning animals. They can pick things up and then find out they are too big or difficult to manipulate and swallow, presuming that was why they picked them up. They can lose battles with potential prey – maybe regularly if something about that potential prey continually attracts them, or maybe infrequently if they give up on it after the first losing battle. I was sceptical about the interpretation in an earlier posting about a Black-naped Oriole photographed with a cicada in its beak. The photographer documented that the oriole was having problems with the cicada, almost dropped it at one point, and finally flew off with it still in its beak. This was announced as a food record for the Oriole, but actually neither the successful manipulation of the cicada such that it was clearly ready for swallowing nor the actual swallowing was photographed or noted in writing. Finally, successful ingestion of an item does not make it food, until we are sure it does not adversely affect the bird. Single records of a single or few individuals of a species ingesting an item may be the start of documentation of a food source. But we need to see the item taken by greater numbers over longer time periods to be sure it is really food.

  4. Margie has a point. We cannot assume that the pitta ate the snail unless it was seen actually swallowing it. After all, after picking up the snail and smashing the shell, it may (just maybe) bring it to its nest (if there was a nest) in the undergrowth and (who knows) decorate it, bowerbird-style? Some birds may prefer the shell for decoration, others the snail minus the shell? Photographers and birders should also keep an eye on inquisitive birds and document what they do with the “food” they pick up. Do they pick up a snail thinking it is a pebble and play with it? Do they pick up a pebble thinking it is a snail and try to swallow it? Only by being inquisitive ourselves and making observations can we discover new behaviour. If we are really thorough, we need to go one step further and check whether anything comes out either end. After swallowing, does the bird vomits or regurgitates anything out? For whatever reasons? As for the other end… do pieces of shell with parts of flesh or only shell excreted, if at all? Just to confirm that the snail was actually processed as food. Exciting stuff… Thanks Margie.

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