“Blue-winged Pittas (Pitta moluccensis) are monotypic. They have no sub-species under their own category; thus making themselves known to be superspecies.
“Their nearest cousins that wear same colour coat of plumages – black, buff to brown, green, blue, white and red – are the Mangrove Pitta (Pitta megarhyncha), Fairy Pitta (Pitta nympha) and Indian Pitta (Pitta brachyura). What set them apart are the subtle, varying degrees of colour and design patterns located in their multicolour, feathered anatomy.
“Blue-winged Pittas are known to be generally accepted as monomorphic – where males and females are indistinguishable in plumages. However, to be more accurate, there will always as nature puts it – ‘no two leaves are totally identical’. So too… of these birds if we care to explore deeper and further. This makes each bird and specimen in the wild unique in its own.
“Under scrutiny – in the hands of scientists – they have documented some interesting and statistical obvious differences in their primary web feathers to determine the sex of the birds.
“Attached to the carpometacarpus and digits are the primary winged feathers of Blue-winged Pitta. It is only in flight that the signatory, white window patch is observed on its primaries.
“At most times, when bird is on ground or perched, the wings are in folding position. Occasionally, some white colour of the webs peeped out, sometimes they don’t (below left).
“A good illustration of wing feathers in field guide books has it that the primary feathers are made up of ten webbed feathers.
“I like Ben King’s Birds of Southeast Asia’s clear illustration of counting the primaries from inner to outer leading edge of the wing to read as from P1 to P10 (Primary feather No. 1-10).
“Based on scientific findings, it concludes that 92% of birds with white markings on outer web of P10 are MALE birds. A minimum of 86% birds without white on P10 are FEMALES and the window patch is averagely smaller than the male.
“So, let’s get real. When do we get to see and count those feathers when these wild birds are on ground or perched?
“Let’s visit their roosting and breeding grounds for a rare opportunity to observe them from a distance, behind the smoke screen, into their private realm and enjoy the colourful vibrancy of these ground dwelling gems.
“Here, a male bird was observed to wing stretch in comfort position displaying most of its primaries in the course of post preening. Caught in this rare shot, the primary feathers revealed full extent of the white, window patch (above right).
“This enlarged image shows primary feather P10 and clarity of feather webs and shafts of the male (above left).
“A side view and rare shot of another male taken during the breeding season, where his right wing hung low to enable counting of the ten primary feathers (above right).
“What made the bird to lax his wing, caught off guard which under normal circumstance and in predatory alertness would keep its wings tight and close to its flanks in preparedness for flight?
“The answer is of course shown in this rear image pose. The male bird, unaware of my presence, had other important matters in beak to deal with and to think about (left)!
“I will do no justice to the female bird for not showcasing its wing plumage for a comparison with the male. For that, I had to recall a breeding pair of Blue-winged Pitta 1st photographed seven years ago on 27th June 2006, Kedah, Peninsular Malaysia.
“The male is shown here (below left). The female is shown here (below right).
“There must have been hundreds into the thousands of photographs taken of this pair by the many photographers from different places taken, when news of pitta nesting broke like wild fire. But… how many knew the sex of those birds they clicked away into storage then?
“When and what else would one be able to tell the sex apart… but only during the small window of opportunity during their courting period.
“For this, readers will need to follow me into the next exciting phase…. into the breeding moments of the Blue-winged Pitta on mainland Penang, Peninsula Malaysia.
“See you soon…”
Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
29th September 2013
Copyright article and all copy images – Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund
Birds of Southeast Asia-Ben King, Martin Woodcock and E.C. Dickenson
Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula – David R. Wells