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Discover the Vibrant World of Bar-bellied Pittas: Their Plumage Behavior and Conservation Status

The Bar-bellied Pitta or Hydrornis elliotii is a colorful bird belonging to the pitta family. These birds are small, vibrant, and endemic to the Southeast Asian region.

This article will cover the identification, plumage, and molts of the Bar-bellied Pitta.



Identification: The Bar-bellied Pitta is a forest bird inhabiting the lowlands and foothills, often found in dense undergrowth. It is a plump bird with a relatively short tail and a distinctive bright green cap on its head.

The rest of the bird’s plumage is vibrant, with an orange-yellow supercilium, blue-gray upperparts, and a rufous-orange belly. The underparts are black, with the exception of a conspicuous white patch on the throat.

Similar Species: The Bar-bellied Pitta is similar in appearance to other Pittas that share the same range, such as the Blue-winged Pitta and the Hooded Pitta. To distinguish the Bar-bellied Pitta from other Pittas, focus on its bright green cap, blue-gray upperparts, and rufous-orange belly.


The Bar-bellied Pitta has predominantly green, blue-gray, orange, and black coloration. Males and females are similar in appearance; however, the male’s rufous-orange belly is deeper and brighter than the female’s.

Immature birds have duller plumage, with less colorful underparts, and a brownish-black cap.


Pittas display two plumage molts each year: the pre-basic molt and the pre-alternate molt. The pre-basic molt happens in winter, and the pre-alternate molt occurs in summer.

The Bar-bellied Pitta undergoes a complete pre-basic molt, replacing all its feathers. During this molt, they lose the ability to fly and become more vulnerable to predators.

The pre-alternate molt, on the other hand, is a partial molt, replacing only some feathers. In conclusion, the Bar-bellied Pitta is a colorful forest bird with unique and vibrant plumage.

Its bright green cap, blue-gray upperparts, and rufous-orange belly make it an iconic Southeast Asian pitta. Identifying the Bar-bellied Pitta is easy if you focus on its unique features and understand its habitat.

Pittas undergo two plumage molts each year, which play an essential role in their survival. Understanding the biology and ecology of these birds is crucial to their conservation.

Systematics History

The Bar-bellied Pitta, scientifically known as Hydrornis elliotii, belongs to the pitta family and is a species of brightly colored birds endemic in Southeast Asia. The first scientific description of the species was made by Horsfield in 1821.

Since then, several taxonomic changes have been made, and the bird’s classification has been revised multiple times.

Geographic Variation

The Bar-bellied Pitta exhibits slight geographical variations with birds from different regions exhibiting minute differences in their plumage characteristics. The primary feature that varies between different geographic regions is the vibrancy of the coloration and the thickness of the bars present on the belly.

The subspecies found in Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia, for example, have thicker and more prominent black bars on their bellies than Bar-bellied Pitta within the Indonesian region.


Related to the geographic variation of the species, the Bar-bellied Pitta has five widely recognized subspecies that distinct geographically. These subspecies are:


H. e.

elliotii, Found in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. 2.

H. e.

blakistoni, Found in the islands of Nias, Simeulue, and Batu. 3.

H. e.

borneensis, Found in Borneo. 4.

H. e.

robinsoni, Found in Palawan in the Philippines. 5.

H. e.

ripponi, Found in the Indonesian island of Bangka and Belitung. All subspecies have bright and vibrant plumage, with the general coloration being green, blue-gray, orange, and black.

Although the distinct plumage characteristics of the subspecies may vary, they are more or less similar in size and structure.

Related Species

The Bar-bellied Pitta belongs to the Pittidae family that contains several members that are endemic to Southeast Asia. The closest relative of the Bar-bellied Pitta is the Blue-naped Pitta (Hydrornis nipalensis), a species found from India to Vietnam.

Other pittas that are closely related to the Bar-bellied Pitta include the Garnet Pitta (Erythropitta granatina) and the Blue-headed Pitta (Hydrornis baudii).

Historical Changes to Distribution

Like other species of birds, the Bar-bellied Pitta has experienced changes to its distribution range over the years. Due to extensive deforestation and habitat fragmentation in recent decades, the species’ distribution range has significantly reduced.

The bird’s population has dramatically declined in many regions, leading to the species being listed as “near-threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Before the reduction of their habitat caused by human activities, Bar-bellied Pitta populations were present throughout southeast Asia, most notably in Sumatra, Myanmar, southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, and Borneo.

Currently, populations of the bird are scarce and localized to patches of degraded forests and protected areas. Despite the bird being a poor disperser, historical records suggest that the species’ range was more extensive and continuous.

Records indicate that they used to reside in larger numbers in Southeast Asian lowlands, including areas that are now populated, urbanized, and converted to farmlands. However, the species is no longer found in some of the places where they previously occurred due to habitat loss.

In conclusion, the Bar-bellied Pitta, being an endemic bird of Southeast Asia, has undergone significant taxonomic revisions over the years. The bird exhibits slight geographical variations and has five widely recognized subspecies.

As a result of habitat loss and fragmentation, the species’ population and distribution range have significantly declined over the years. The Historical range of the species was more extensive before the destruction of habitat which lead to localized patches of degraded forests as the only remaining habitat of the bird.


Bar-bellied Pittas are found inhabiting the undergrowth of dense forests, typically near small streams or swamps. They utilize a wide range of forest types including primary, secondary, and disturbed forests.

The birds inhabit tropical rainforests, evergreen forests, and deciduous forests in lowland or foothill areas with a preference for shaded and damp habitats. Bar-bellied Pittas occupy their habitat throughout the year, moving across different areas within the same habitat, depending on food and shelter availability.

The species is sensitive to habitat alterations and shows a dramatic reduction in populations when their habitats are altered or degraded.

Movements and Migration

Bar-bellied Pittas are considered sedentary birds, meaning that they do not have regular migration habits. They generally do not make long-distance movements or undertake regular seasonal migrations.

However, they may occasionally make local movements or disperse to other areas within their habitat. Individuals display different patterns of movements, which may be related to resource availability in the area.

The species is usually solitary and territorial during the breeding season. The breeding season is around April to August in Sumatra and February to July in Peninsular Malaysia.

During the non-breeding season, the birds may be more tolerant of each other’s presence and can be found in small groups. Although Bar-bellied Pittas generally avoid leaving their habitat, the clearance and fragmentation of habitat often results in populations becoming isolated, resulting in genetic differentiation between populations that represent distinct dispersal units.

Threats to

Habitat and Conservation

The Bar-bellied Pitta is facing several threats to their habitat, which are primarily due to human activities. Humans have encroached on the natural habitat of the species, leading to a reduction of the bird’s population, range, and distribution.

The primary threats to the species’ habitat include:


Habitat loss: There has been a significant reduction in habitat covering the bird’s natural range due to logging, mining, and urbanization.

The destruction has led to a fragmentation of the forest, which reduces the connectivity of the forest for the pitta to move across. 2.

Poaching and Hunting: Bar-bellied Pittas are occasionally hunted for their feathers or captured for the pet trade, leading to a decline in population. 3.

Climate change: Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns resulting from climate change can have a profound effect on the distribution and survival of the species. The conservation of Bar-bellied Pitta birds is essential due to their ecological importance and uniqueness.

Their role in the forest ecosystem as insect predators is vital, as they control insect populations in forest areas. The species is currently listed as “near-threatened” by the IUCN, with populations declining, primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Conservation efforts aimed at reducing habitat fragmentation and loss, habitat restoration, and conservation education on the conservation of the species are essential. To this end, protected areas and reserves have been designated to help conserve the Bar-bellied Pitta, but more needs to be done, as human activities often continue to encroach on these protected areas.

Diet and Foraging


Bar-bellied Pittas are insectivores and feed mainly on insects and other invertebrates. They are believed to be opportunistic feeders and can take prey by hopping on the ground or through the undergrowth, where they probe the leaf litter and the soil surface.

The species also forages by jumping up to catch insects and grubs on the lower branches of trees. Occasionally, the bird may make short flights to capture insects in the air.


Bar-bellied Pittas eat a variety of invertebrates, with ants being their primary prey. Ants provide an excellent source of protein and are believed to be an essential component of the bird’s diet.

Termites, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, and other insects, including centipedes and millipedes, supplement their diet. Mating and rearing young require large amounts of food, and birds are known to increase their food intake during breeding season.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Bar-bellied Pittas have a high metabolic rate, with their metabolism performing optimally at ambient temperatures of around 28C. The bird has a thermal neutral zone (TNZ) of between 24C to 30C, beyond which it has to regulate its body function and reduce its metabolism.

This is because the species has evolved thermoregulatory mechanisms that maintain their core body temperature in a narrow range. The Bar-bellied Pitta has a specialized respiratory system known as an air sac system.

This system allows the bird to inhale both fresh air and stale air, resulting in efficient gas exchange and conservation of heat. The species is also believed to regulate their core body temperature using evaporative cooling mechanisms, such as panting and gular fluttering, allowing them to cool their body and maintain their temperature within the optimal range.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


Bar-bellied Pittas are known for their melodious and pronounced vocalization, which consists of loud repeating whistles or calls used for territorial defense and attracting mates. The bird is known to have a unique vocalization that distinguishes it from other pittas.

They typically vocalize during early mornings or late afternoons. The Bar-bellied Pitta has a complex vocalization repertoire, consisting of a combination of high-pitched and low-pitched notes of different lengths and rhythm.

The bird is known to produce at least eleven different vocalizations, including the “hoo-de-hoo,” “choower-choower,” and “tzee-eee,” among others. Bar-bellied Pittas also use non-vocal responses to communicate.

When threatened or alarmed, they may flick their wings and tail, puff up their body, or even pretend to be injured to distract predators from their nest or young. In conclusion, Bar-bellied Pittas are insectivores, feeding mainly on ants, termites, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, centipedes, and millipedes.

The bird has evolved thermoregulatory mechanisms to maintain its body temperature within a narrow range and has a high metabolic rate optimized at approximately 28C. The species is known for its vocalizations, with the male producing melodious and complex calls used for territorial defense and attracting mates.

The unique vocalization of the Bar-bellied Pitta allows bird enthusiasts and researchers to identify and study the species in the wild.



Bar-bellied Pittas are ground-dwelling birds that have well-adapted legs that allow them to hop, run, and leap over obstacles in their dense forest habitat. They use their wings to help them balance when jumping and often move by a series of quick hops and jumps.

The bird rarely flies unless forced to by human disturbance or a predator.

Self Maintenance

Bar-bellied Pittas spend significant amounts of time grooming their feathers, beaks, and feet, which help keep them clean and prevent the accumulation of dirt or parasites. The species also occasionally bathes or preens its feathers with its beak and may use vegetation to help scratch hard-to-reach places.

Agonistic Behavior

Bar-bellied Pittas are solitary birds that defend their territory and may be aggressive or territorial towards other individuals of the same species during the breeding season. The birds will defend their territory by displaying aggressive behavior, including flaring their tails, puffing their feathers, and emitting loud alarm calls to warn off perceived threats.

Sexual Behavior

Bar-bellied Pittas form monogamous pairs during the breeding season. The male courts the female by singing and performing a mating dance that involves bobbing its head and flicking its wings.

During courtship, the male bird may also deliver food to the female to demonstrate his ability to provide for her and their offspring. Once a pair is formed, the male and female birds work together to build and maintain a nest, incubate eggs, and care for the young.


Bar-bellied Pittas breed annually, primarily between February to July in Peninsular Malaysia and April to August in Sumatra. During the breeding season, the birds use their vocalizations for territorial defense and attracting mates.

Once the pairs are formed, they work together to construct a nest usually hidden in the brush or leaf litter on the ground or low trees, using dry twigs, leaves, and other plant materials. The female lays about three eggs, which are white and heavily speckled with dark brown spots, and both the male and female incubate the eggs for around 16-20 days.

After hatching, both parents feed the chicks by regurgitating food into their beaks. The chicks grow quickly and can leave the nest between 11-15 days, but the parents continue to feed and care for them for several weeks.

Demography and Populations

Bar-bellied Pittas have experienced a decline in populations in many parts of their range primarily due to human activities such as habitat loss and fragmentation. The bird is listed as near threatened on the IUCN red list, with populations trended to be decreasing.

The species is highly susceptible to habitat degradation, and populations are extremely fragmented, making them vulnerable to further threats. Conservation efforts aimed at habitat restoration, sustainable land use, and protection of protected areas are needed to save the species from extinction.

In conclusion, Bar-bellied Pittas exhibit unique behavior such as their hopping locomotion, self-grooming, and territorial defense. The birds form monogamous pairs during the breeding season and construct well-camouflaged ground nests located near brush or leaf litter using dry twigs, leaves, and other plant materials.

Conservation efforts are necessary to conserve the species as their populations continue declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation. In conclusion, the Bar-bellied Pitta is a unique and fascinating bird species with remarkable behavior, physiology, and ecology.

The article highlights the species’ identification, plumage, molts, feeding, vocalization, breeding, behavior, and population status. The species’ significance lies in its ecological role as an insectivore that helps control insect populations in forest areas.

The Bar-bellied Pitta’s decline in populations is primarily due to human activities such as habitat loss and fragmentation. Therefore, conservation efforts aimed at habitat restoration, sustainable land use, and protection of protected areas are crucial in conserving the species and ensuring its survival.

Understanding the biology, behavior, and ecology of the Bar-bellied Pitta serves as a reminder of the importance of conserving biodiversity and supporting efforts that help preserve our natural world.

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