Justification of Red List category
This beautiful pitta qualifies as Vulnerable because its population is suspected to be in rapid decline owing to deforestation in its breeding range, principally for agriculture and timber, locally compounded by trapping for the cagebird trade.
BirdLife International (2001) estimated the total population to be not more than a few thousand or tens of thousands of individuals. This is precautionarily placed in the band 2,500-9,999 individuals, equating to 1,667-6,666 mature individuals, rounded here to 1,500-7,000 mature individuals. National population estimates include: c.100-10,000 breeding pairs and c.50-1,000 individuals on migration in China; c.100-10,000 breeding pairs and c.50-1,000 individuals on migration in Taiwan; c.100-10,000 breeding pairs and c.50-1,000 individuals on migration in Korea and c.100-10,000 breeding pairs and c.50-1,000 individuals on migration in Japan (Brazil 2009).
A number of pressures within the species's range are driving habitat loss and conversion, the effects of which are compounded by local trapping pressure. As a result the species is suspected to be declining rapidly, with survey results from Taiwan suggesting an annual decline of 5.9% (3.4-8.4%) (Kuan-Chieh Hung in litt. 2014).
Pitta nympha breeds in north-east Asia in Japan, South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan (China), and winters mainly on the island of Borneo, in east Malaysia, Brunei and Kalimantan, Indonesia (BirdLife International 2001). It has been recorded on passage in northern Taiwan (W. Hsu in litt. 2003), North Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong (China) and, most recently, Thailand (BCST Bird Record Committee 2009). It appears to be localised in its breeding range, but occurs at relatively high densities at some localities. Preliminary estimates based on playback surveys by the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute suggest that up to 2,000 individuals may breed in Taiwan (Fang Woei-Horng in litt. 2007). Survey effort in Jiangxi (Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden 2003), Guangxi (Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden 2002a,b) and Hainan (Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden 2001) Provinces, China, has identified a number of new locations. Overall, its population is unlikely to be more than a few thousand individuals and it is thought to be declining, although the Japanese Ministry of Environment report in 2004 shows that it was recorded in a greater number of survey squares during 1997-2002 distributional surveys of Japanese animals compared with their 1974-1978 figures (Y. Kominami in litt. 2007). The total population is likely to fall between 3,000 and 5,000 individuals (Wild at Heart Legal Defence Association undated).
It breeds in subtropical forest, where its localised distribution suggests that it has specialised habitat requirements. Peak breeding season in Taiwan is in May and June. In Japan, it breeds primarily in broadleaved evergreen forest near the coast (mostly below 500 m), although breeding has been recorded from plantations and the species appears to be adaptable to modified forest habitats. In South Korea, it breeds in dense moist forest and broadleaved forest near the coast, up to 1,200 m. The nest is usually built in crevices or foliage 1-5 m above the ground. It forages amongst leaf-litter for invertebrates, also occasionally taking snakes, lizards and small rodents (Wild at Heart Legal Defence Association undated).
The key threat is extensive lowland deforestation in its breeding range, particularly for development and gravel extraction (Wild at Heart Legal Defence Association undated). In south-east China, most forest has been cleared or modified through conversion to agricultural land and logging for timber. Uncontrolled fires have further reduced remaining forest cover. The area of forest in Japan is gradually increasing, but mature forest is rare and most is regenerating secondary forest or plantations cut on a 15-30 year cycle. It was extensively trapped for the cage-bird trade in the past in Taiwan and hunting is a threat in China. Human disturbance is a problem in Taiwan, South Korea and particularly on its breeding grounds in Japan, where the species suffers disturbance from photographers (Yukihiro Kominami in litt. 2007). Huben-Hushan IBA in Yunlin County, Taiwan, supports the largest known breeding population of the species, but it is seriously threatened by the proposed Hushan Dam Project, which would flood 422 ha of key habitat. Despite opposition from conservation groups this project has not been stopped and disturbance at the construction site saw the number of breeding birds drop to 18 in 2007, from 32 the previous year (Fang Woei-Horng in litt. 2007).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. It is legally protected in mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, North Korea and South Korea. It occurs in a number of protected areas across its range, notably Keoje Island Natural Monument, the main breeding site in South Korea. BirdLife International and the Wild Bird Federation Taiwan have successfully lobbied against gravel extraction at Huban-Hushan IBA in the past and are now campaigning against the proposed Hushan Dam Project at the same site.
16-19.5 cm. Small, brightly-coloured pitta. Chestnut crown and forehead with black median stripe. Pale buffish supercilium extending through nape. Broad black stripe from lores to nape. Green mantle, scapulars and back and bright blue rump and uppertail-coverts. Brownish-black primaries with small white patch. Dark blue primary coverts, dark green greater and median coverts and bright blue lesser coverts. Whitish chin, rest of underparts buffish with red vent and stripe to lower belly. Similar spp. Blue-winged Pitta P. moluccensis is larger with buff crown sides/supercilium, brighter blue rump and uppertail-coverts, deeper buff underparts and blue on all upperwing-coverts. In flight, shows larger white primary patch. Voice Song is clear, whistled kwah-he kwa-wu, longer and slower than P. moluccensis.
Text account compilers
Khwaja, N., Crosby, M., Taylor, J., Westrip, J., Benstead, P., Bird, J., Peet, N.
Hung, K., Woei-Horng, F., Kominami, Y., Hsu, W.
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Pitta nympha. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/fairy-pitta-pitta-nympha on 24/02/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org on 24/02/2024.