“Being such shy and elusive birds, there had been few good opportunities to observe Blue-winged Pittas’ (Pitta moluccensis) behaviour behind the ‘smoke screen’.
“A double whammy opportunity was had the same day, same bird following the magical leaves flying cum foraging incident (below left).
“The 18-20.5cm probably male was observed to be grooming while perched on edge of decayed crater oil palm stump. The stylist was unaware of an onlooker…or so it seemed.
“What does a ground dweller hear while spending time in forest floor habitat? Apart from dangers of traps and snares, there are sounds of insects calling/buzzing, other birds singing/alarm calls, animal/bird predators on the prowl, rustling of leaves, timber crashing falls, cracking of brittle branches, human noises or roaring sounds of vehicle engines and machines including rain, howling winds and thunder.
“These factors stimulate alertness, predatory and survival instincts of Blue-winged. They have learnt to adapt, to evolve into ultra sensitive, extraordinary birds with sharpened intuitive faculties.
“Apart from the occasional wing flick and nervous tail twitch, head feather raising (above right), neck cranking, auditory alert posture and surveillance look (left), observations include comfort positions and breathing movements of its chest as shown in video.
“Let’s take a look at some meticulous, preening shots extracted from a 1min 37 sec. observation. The show was played out by this obliging, supposedly breeding male taken on 10th April 2013, when colour plumage seen at best.
“The bird commenced preening the central area of his crimson red belly -just below the fawn coloured/rufous-buff chest (below left).
“It then proceeded to pay more attention to preening his right shoulder tip; then to swiping the winged covert feathers of blue and green to get barbs in place. More massaging of the shoulder joint made with his beak (above right, below).
“The preening procedure then shifted to left under wing for more web alignment of its primary feathers (below left). The left shoulder and green mantle area were also attended to thoroughly. (below right).
“The vigilante did not forget the precautionary glances for lurking slithers and other predators amidst some birds singing during the preening process (below left).
“Intuitively, he turned to face my direction. I froze (above right).
“Then, a quick aerobic wing exercise to hang loose his right wing and a couple of head scratches with left foot issued (below).
“Open public toilet was free. Without much fuss for privacy, Blue-winged Pitta proceeded to swerve his rear, bore down and discharged a big sewage gush of whitish poo that curtailed to the likes of a quick water pistol squirt! (below).
“Before the groomer took leave, he gave his wings a good shuffle to reveal a quick glimpse of his blackish armpit; stretched his rear, black tail sideways for added comfort and preening satisfaction (below left).
“The finale preening shot in comfort position had this ground jewel stretching his right, black wing to expose the signatory and diagnostic large, white patch of primary feathers (above right, left).
“There is a hidden, identification secret in birds’ feathers not featured distinctively in image of illustrated field guide books that provide the sex clue.
“Do join me in Part 5 to count bird feathers and determine the HE-N-SHE in Blue-winged Pittas. Coming soon….”
Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
18th September 2013
Copyright article and all copy images – Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund