A choking Blue-winged Pitta

on 25th January 2010

The post on the weird behaviour of the Malaysian Night Heron (Gorsachius melanolophus) attracted the attention of Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS as he has an earlier encounter with a Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis) with similar behaviour. His account is reproduced below.

“I think, from a medical and clinical view point, that it is foreign body in the mouth/throat of the Malayan Night Heron. In feeding, some sharp object has been impaled in the oral cavity (like a fish bone for us) and the bird is trying to dislodge it.

“To support this, here is sequence of pictures of a Blue-winged Pitta who spent some weeks in our urban garden. These pictures were from December 2008. Once while watching it feed, I saw the exact behavior. It gagged, choked and tried to dislodge an object (foreign body) in the oral cavity.

“The first picture (above left) was taken before the event, showing no foreign body in the oral cavity or beak. The next picture (above right) shows it feeding. Then a gagging/choking shot (below left). Then a picture showing the foreign body in the oral cavity/beak (on the left side) (below right) – this foreign body was retained until the bird left our home some time later.

“It could be that this is not a foreign body but a piece of torn flesh at the mouth but the bird obviously ate something that stuck in the beak/oral cavity and had to gag/choke to get it out.

“We have had almost yearly visits by the Blue Winged Pitta to our urban garden. Next door is an abandoned house (partly overgrown) and our own garden is full of trees with partial undergrowth and leaves – both of these possibly attract these birds. This year some one (a human) has moved in next door.”

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

5 Responses

  1. Dear All

    Not a specific comment on this very interesting series of photos, but has the BESG – by posting about the behaviour of the Blue-winged Pitta and attracting so many comments – changed the thinking about the status of the species in Singapore?
    I remember seeing the very showy bird in the Botanic Gardens in January 2006 and got the impression that many local birders hadn’t seen one on Singapore before, or at the very least considered them to be rare. You seem to have ‘uncovered’ many more sightings judging by the correspondence on the website. Is that a false impression and the same numbers are being seen as always, or do you think pittas were being seen but sightings weren’t being submitted anywhere (perhaps there wasn’t the right forum until the BESG set up this site)?



  2. Birdwatchers used to submit sightings to an in-house, restricted-circulation newsletter, the Singapore Avifauna, that became available months, if not years, after the event. The newsletter has now gone online but there is still a delay of months before an issue sees the light of day. Outside of the regular birdwatchers, not many people are aware of the newsletter.

    The setting up of this website, accessible to anyone with a computer, makes many more people aware of pitta sightings, especially when accompanied by colourful images. We post aspects of behaviour and at any one season we may post a number of items. Such postings can and do have a multiplier effect as others are encouraged to submit their observations.

    I am not sure whether there is an increased in arrivals of the pitta but definitely there is an increased in awareness because of our postings. And you are right, most locals have not actually seen these beautiful birds.

    Another point to note is that a number of pitta posts originated from nearby Malaysia – as with this one (sorry, I failed to mention that this account was observed in the Malaysian State of Perak).

  3. I’m not too sure that this gets us any nearer the particularly interesting aspect of the Malaysian Night Heron hooking its bill into the underside of its neck, but it does demonstrate that gagging or retching activities in general occur as a perfectly natural piece of behaviour.

    All birds, when something is either uncomfortable in the gullet or when in the process of casting a pellet, will carry out gagging or retching activity to remove the obstruction or cast the pellet. It appears from Dr. Amar-Singh’s excellent series of pictures that the Blue-winged Pitta is regurgitating something from its gullet which, it appears from picture no: 4, has been successful either with the object being expelled or reswallowed. In the process, I suggest that a particle of food material, most likely covered with sticky mucous either from the mouth of the Pitta itself or from the food item, has become stuck to the outside of the closed bill as shown in this picture no:4.

    Bill wiping on the ground or on the boughs of trees is an activity frequently carried out by nearly all bird species, and this item stuck to the bill of the Pitta would soon be discarded either by bill wiping or by violent head shaking.

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