Despite the discovery of a large population in Myanmar, the situation for this pitta remains precarious since it occupies a very small range in which its habitat of flat, low-lying forest, which is targeted for the development of oil-palm plantations, is already severely fragmented. A very rapid population reduction is anticipated to occur in the near future as a result of land clearance. For these reasons it is listed as Endangered.
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.
Distribution and populationPitta gurneyi
18.5-20.5 cm. Unmistakable pitta with blue crown and black-and-yellow underparts. Black forecrown and head-sides, yellow underparts with black centre of breast and belly, black undertail-coverts and black barred flanks. Warm dark brown rest of upperside, deep blue tail tinged turquoise. Female has buffy-brown crown and nape, blackish-brown sides of head with paler streaks, whitish throat and pale buffy-whitish remainder of underparts with dark bars. Juvenile has dark brown crown, nape, breast and upper belly with buff streaks and, initially, fleshy-orange bill base and tip. Voice Sings with short explosive lilip.
southern Tenasserim, Myanmar
and adjacent peninsular Thailand
. Formerly common across much of its range, there were no field observations in Thailand between 1952 and 1986
(BirdLife International 2001). Since 1986, intensive surveys have found it in at least five localities, although it has disappeared from all but one of these, Khao Nor Chuchi. This population has declined from 44-45 pairs in 1986 to just nine pairs in 1997, most of which are outside protected-area boundaries. Detailed work in 2003-2007 recorded birds at 27 sites in Khao Nor Chuchi, and a further survey of the area in 2009 found 12 individuals responding to tape playback (Anon. 2009, Donald et al.
2009). The outlook for the population in Thailand is regarded as pessimistic (J. Eames in litt
. 2012, P. Round in litt
. 2012). A search for it in Myanmar in 2003 was successful and discovered the species at four sites with a maximum of 10-12 pairs at one location (BirdLife International 2003, Eames et al.
. It was found to be not uncommon at some sites, and on the basis of previously reported population densities and extent of suitable habitat, the population was estimated to number 5,152-8,586 pairs (Eames et al.
. It may number considerably more than this, but no further quantification has been made and so the estimate is precautionarily retained. In 2007-2008, the species was recorded at 101 census points in Myanmar (Donald et al.
2009). In 2010, a follow-up survey in the country found 13 individuals, at six different survey points (Anon. 2010). In general, even during intensive survey work the species is likely to be under-recorded owing to its low detectability (Donald et al.
In Myanmar, on the basis of previously reported population densities and extent of suitable habitat, the population is estimated to be 5,152-8,586 pairs, equating to 10,300-17,100 mature individuals, or roughly 15,000-26,000 individuals in total.Trend justification
A moderately rapid to rapid decline is suspected to have occurred over the last ten years owing to deforestation. This population decline is expected to become very rapid over the next ten years on the basis of the expected rate of deforestation in Myanmar.Ecology
It occurs in secondary, regenerating, lowland semi-evergreen forest, usually below 160 m in flat areas with slopes less than ten degrees, with an understorey containing Salacca
palms, in which it nests. Recent research suggests the species uses different habitat types in Thailand and Myanmar, which is encouraging for habitat restoration work (Donald 2008). Territories are centred on gulley systems where moist conditions prevail year-round, usually with access to water, and often close to forest edge. It is likely to show "a heavy reliance on earthworms", in line with other members of the genus. It breeds during the wet season, between April and October. Threats
The key reason for its decline has been the almost total clearance of lowland forest in southern Myanmar and peninsular Thailand through clear-felling for timber, unofficial logging and conversion to croplands, fruit orchards, coffee, rubber and oil-palm plantations. By 1987, only 20-50 km2
of forest below 100 m remained in peninsular Thailand and this area continues to decline. The rate and extent of conversion of flat forest to oil-palm plantation in Myanmar in the next ten years is open to speculation, but most land is already assigned to plantations and, were foreign companies to become more involved, it could become very rapid (
J. Eames in litt.
. An added complication is that future deforestation rates will also be strongly influenced by internal politics in the region and the strength of the insurgency groups (P. Donald in litt.
. In Thailand at least, snare-line trapping for the cage-bird trade is also a serious threat. Predation by cat snakes (Boiga
spp.) appears to limit reproductive success in Thailand. These predators are native, but may be present at a higher-than-natural density, having been favoured by habitat fragmentation in the area (Donald et al.
2009).Conservation actions underway
CITES Appendix I. Following its rediscovery in Thailand, a series of breeding season censuses were conducted in 1987-1989 to locate and quantify populations in peninsular Thailand. The most important of these, Khao Nor Chuchi, was designated a Non-Hunting Area in 1987, and upgraded to a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1993. The Khao Nor Chuchi Lowland Forest Project was established in 1990 and engaged the local community in participatory management, education programmes and ecotourism, to help reduce pressure on remaining forest. However, this has met with limited success as economic incentives continue to govern land-use decisions. A tree nursery has been created by the project in Thailand, with a Treasure Tree programme initiated with local schoolchildren to encourage involvement in environmental activities such as tree-planting, and run activities such as bird and tree identification (Anon. 2009). A species recovery plan was produced for Thailand in 2002. The capacity for emergency measures is now in place in case the Thai population falls below five pairs; this would involve captive breeding and supplementary feeding. Research is underway to identify the key tree species associated with the birds' habitat in Thailand (Donald 2008). A project in Myanmar aimed at conserving remaining lowland forest in southern Tenasserim commenced in 2004. There are currently no protected areas in this region (BirdLife International 2003), but the proposed Lenya National Park would protect a large area of suitable habitat (J. Eames in litt.
2007). Conservation actions proposed
Monitor population trends through regular surveys at known sites. Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation within the species's known range. Monitor levels of trapping. Establish and effectively protect Lenya National Park as a matter of urgency. Extend strict protected area status to all remaining suitable habitat currently outside Khao Nor Chuchi Wildlife Sanctuary boundaries. Establish an in situ
protection unit with direct responsibility for safeguarding all remaining habitat, to facilitate cooperation with sanctuary officials and strengthen management and community participation.
BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.
Eames, J.C.; Htin Hla; Leimgruber, P.; Kelly, D.S.; Sein Myo Aung; Moses, S.; U Saw Nyunt Tin. 2005. The rediscovery of Gurney's Pitta Pitta gurneyi in Myanmar and an estimate of its population size based on remaining forest cover. Bird Conservation International 15: 3-26.
Donald, P. 2008. Gurney's Pitta research and conservation in Thailand and Myanmar. The Babbler: BirdLife in Indochina: 32-36.
Anon. 2009. Securing the future for Gurney's Pitta and its forest habitat: half year report. The Babbler: BirdLife in Indochina: 40-41.
Donald, P. F.; Aratrakorn, S.; Thura Win Htun; Eames, J. C.; Htin Hla; Thunhikorn, S.; Sribua-Rod, K.; Pinyo Tinun; Sein Myo Aung; Sa Myo Zaw; Buchanan, G. M. 2009. Population, distribution, habitat use and breeding of Gurney's Pitta Pitta gurneyi in Myanmar and Thailand. Bird Conservation International 19: 353-366.
Anon. 2010. Results of latest Gurney's Pitta survey in Myanmar. The Babbler: BirdLife in Indochina: 49.
Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).
View photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Davidson, P., Khwaja, N., Mahood, S., Peet, N., Taylor, J., Tobias, J.
Donald, P., Eames, J., Htin Hla, T.
IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.
BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Pitta gurneyi. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 21/05/2013.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2013) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 21/05/2013.
This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000)
Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004)
Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.
To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife
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