Justification of Red List Category
This pitta qualifies as Vulnerable because it has a small, severely fragmented population, which is likely to be rapidly declining owing to the loss of its lowland forest habitat.
The population size is preliminarily estimated to fall into the band 2,500-9,999 mature individuals. This equates to 3,750-14,999 individuals in total, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.
Forest clearance has been extensive within its range, beginning many decades ago. Its status on Samar and Leyte is unknown. Rajah Sikatuna National Park appears to be benefiting from effective management and logging has declined, but other known populations lie outside protected areas and forest clearance continues. Hence, overall the species is suspected to be declining rapidly.
Pitta steerii is endemic to the Philippines, where it is known from Samar, Leyte, Bohol and Mindanao (BirdLife International 2001). Historical evidence indicates it was always rather local and uncommon but since 1980 it is has been recorded at just three sites, Rajah Sikatuna National Park on Bohol, where it is locally common, Bislig, and a location on the Zamboanga peninsula on Mindanao. Its current status on Samar and Leyte, where it was last recorded in 1969 and 1964 respectively, is not known.
It inhabits lowland forest on limestone karst or forest liberally scattered with limestone boulders, up to 750 m. It has also been encountered in stunted and secondary formations in close association with limestone. Recent surveys found it in association with stunted, highly endemic iron-wood (Xanthostemon verdugonianus) forests on the eastern slopes of Mount Hilong Hilong in Mindanao and in bonsai or pygmy forests in the lowlands of Mount Hamiguitan (J. Ibanez in litt. 2007). The ecological significance of its preference for limestone is not clear.
Its whole range has suffered extensive lowland deforestation. In 1988, forest cover had been reduced to an estimated 29% on Mindanao, most of it above 1,000 m. Most remaining lowland forest is now leased to logging concessions or mining applications. Estimates from 1989 were that as little as 433 km2 of old-growth dipterocarp forest remained on Samar and Leyte. Just 4% forest cover is thought to remain on Bohol. Local pressures at Rajah Sikatuna National Park include limited illegal tree-cutting, agricultural expansion and soil erosion. Forest at Bislig is being cleared under concession and re-planted with exotic trees for paper production. Mining for chromite and nickel represents the most significant threat to many remaining forest areas (J. Ibanez in litt. 2007).
Conservation Actions Underway
It occurs in one protected area, Rajah Sikatuna National Park on Bohol, and recent management efforts appear to be minimising the pressures on this park. It also occurs in the Mt Hilong-hilong Watershed Reserve, although this area is threatened by a pending application to allow mineral extraction in the surrounding area. No protected area is currently proposed for Bislig but work is on-going between the Philippine Eagle Foundation and the City Government of Bislig for the declaration of a 7,000-ha Philippine Eagle nesting site as critical habitat under a new Philippine Wildlife Law, and similarly at Mt Hamiguitan. Azure-breasted Pitta has been reported from both sites.
18-19.5 cm. Brightly coloured, ground-dwelling passerine. Black head, white throat. Green upperparts except for shining azure-blue rump and wing-patch. Pale blue underparts, black patch on centre of belly merges into vivid scarlet lower belly and undertail-coverts. Greyish-flesh legs. Stout, dark bill. Juvenile duller, especially grey-washed underparts. Similar spp. Hooded Pitta P. sordida is smaller, duller, has black throat and green underparts. Voice Loud series of 4-5 explosive short whistles whep-whep-whep-whep repeated every few seconds. Hints Shy. Best located by call. Frequently calls after rain, usually from an elevated perch.
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Davidson, P., Lowen, J., Peet, N., Taylor, J.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Pitta steerii. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 26/11/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 26/11/2020.