Gurney's Pitta on forest floor in Thailand
Gurney's Pitta nest site
Gurney's Pitta nest site

Lonely birds

This beautiful bird has a blue crown and black-and-yellow underparts. The rest of the head is black, and it has warm brown upperparts. The female has a brown crown and buffy-whitish underparts. The name commemorates the English ornithologist John Henry Gurney. It eats slugs, insects and worms.

Gurney's Pitta is one of 15 endangered birds in KNC. It was initially thought to be extinct for some time after 1952, but was rediscovered in 1986. Its rarity has been caused by the clearance of natural forest in southern Burma and peninsular Thailand. This rare and spectacularly-coloured bird was recently voted the "most wanted bird in Thailand" by bird watchers visiting that country.

Its worldwide population was estimated at a mere nine pairs in 1997, then believed one of the rarest bird species on earth. A search for it in Burma in 2003 was successful and discovered that the species persisted at four sites with a maximum of 10-12 pairs at one location. This granted the species a reassessment from the IUCN, going from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Further research completed in Burma by 2009 provides strong evidence that its global population is greater than previously estimated, owing to the discovery of several new territories, but these areas are already under threat from logging.

When populations of a species reach levels this low habitat destruction becomes an even more severe problem. A pair of birds in an island of forest surrounded by plantation have nowhere for their offspring to go in order to find new mates. It becomes a biological desert. APE helping RSPB, OBC, BCST and FORRU to build a system of forest 'corridors' to link up surviving habitat and thereby link up the isolated birds in the hope that they will be able to breed better in the area.