Mangrove Pitta handling crabs

Samson Tan recently encountered the elusive Mangrove Pitta (Pitta megarhyncha) in a patch of mangrove on mainland Singapore. With a camera in hand, he managed to document how the kingfisher handled the crab it caught (left). “Through the course of photography, I learn more than just the name of the plants or animals that I photographed. I learn about their behaviour, their diet, their distribution and most importantly their habitat as well as their challenges,” wrote Samson LINK.

Considered globally near-threatened, Mangrove Pittas are uncommon to rare on the mainland. This situation can be attributed to the slowly shrinking of whatever degraded mangroves that are left.

The main diet of the Mangrove Pitta include earthworms and snails, although pittas in general also consume a variety of invertebrates such as ants, beetles, bugs, centipedes, spiders and termites, as well as small frogs, skinks and snakes. Crabs have been mentioned as another food LINK.

According to Samson, “This is my second sighting of this beautiful pitta and again, throughout the one hour of my observations, this pitta only take crabs and nothing else. It took three crabs before disappearing from my sight.”

The Mangrove Pitta held on to the crab by its legs and shook it vigorously to dislodge the free legs (above). The initial shake would dislodge most of the legs. Once all the legs were dislodged leaving one pincer still attached to the body, it began to eat the crab (below). Once the body of the crab is consumed, it picked up the loose legs to consume them also.

As the legs of the crabs were removed but not the pincer, Samson wondered whether this was to cripple the crab so that it cannot escape or was it to prevent the legs from causing harm to the bird’s stomach wall.

Samson Tan
February 2012

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