It was 3.45 am and I couldn’t help but keep turning in bed, waiting for 4 am to tick over and time was just not moving. Eventually I gave in, got up, switched the alarm off and got into shower and was sitting ready on the swing on my verandah at 4.15 waiting for my friend who had promised to show up at 4.30am. This buddy of mine was sharp and punctual and he drove in at 4.30 and whilst he parked his car, I readied my car and we left at 4.35 am in a search that was now reaching desperate levels. Unlike most people who like to sleep in on weekends, I have a penchant to not let a minute of the weekend go to waste and to use the chance to go out in the field and be birding by day break.
Just the previous evening, another Instagram friend had messaged me that they saw the Indian Pitta, she thought she should inform me. I immediately responded and after talking for half an hour with her and her husband, both keen birders, I knew the location where the Pitta’s were visiting. I have been searching for them desperately since a while now. They do visit my district but somehow they have always eluded me. I have seen so many photos of it, read so much about it and although not having seen it I just knew that I was missing something really beautiful in life. How I could not have seen such a pretty bird, even after it visited my own town.
The car zoomed past the last village Gulvani on this route at 6.30 am and we parked our car on a rough road where we found it difficult to separate the road from a dry river. I was joined by my friend and his 12 year old son. We parked, ate a couple of thepla’s and took out our binoculars and were ready to go looking for the Indian Pitta.
Luckily this is not a silent bird, also this is the start of the breeding season, so I was instructing my friends son, that a lot of birding is done by the ears so to keep talking to a minimum and listening to a maximum. We had just walked about 5 mins and we were greeted by Chestnut Shouldered Petronia’s, Indian White Eye, a yellow-crowned woodpecker and the Black Drongo. We then heard the Pitta call, they were coming from a higher slope, but they were here for sure!
I do encourage small kids to join me on my birding trails, I kind of always want to show things to them, somehow I want to be able to maybe play a miniscule role in connecting them to nature and perhaps someday getting them interested the world around us and the wildlife and flora around us which desperately needs conservation. So whilst I had to show these common birds to the kid, today I felt a strange desperation, of wanting to see the Pitta. There was kind of an impatient urge in me to ignore all others and just look for the pitta. We had walked just 5 more minutes and a small Pitta sized bird flew and like the Indian pitta sat on the floor and I almost skipped a heartbeat that I found the Pitta so soon. However, that fellow was the Orange Headed Thrush and not the Indian Pitta, another not so common and a very brightly contrasting bird, this fellow wasn’t shy, he stuck around and showed us himself quite nicely, infact we let him be and moved on.
Again, a similar movement like that of the thrush, this time in the undergrowth the bird seemed all dark. We all had our eyes in the shadow, the colours not visible but the target acquired. This must be the pitta I thought to myself, then after a brief pause, the bird moved, hop hop hop… out it came into the direct sun to reveal itself. The spotlight suddenly was on the star! I finally had the Indian Pitta right in front of me! It would hop, stop, turn a leaf over, pick up something, eat it away, again hop, hop, checkout another leaf and so on. I was glued to my binoculars, following every movement. Although this was the first time I was seeing it, I almost knew how it would behave, owing to how much I had read about it and heard about it! It then called loudly and another Pitta zoomed over and there were two Pittas about 10 meters apart from each other in front of us!! This was a moment that I am not going to forget for the rest of my life! ❤
The Indian Pitta is not a very common sight also it is not a very rare bird at the same time, however, it is pretty famous. The fact that it has so many colours and is so pretty looking, it has been covered by lots of books and magazines so even though not all might not have seen a live Pitta, most of them are aware about this bird. It has various colours and that has led to its fabled status, its Hindi name is ‘Navrang’, in Gujarati it is called ‘Hariyo’. The origin of the name though is from Telugu, pitta bird, meaning a small bird.
It is a local migrant and spends most of its time from October to March down in southern India and even Sri Lanka. However around April it starts its migration upwards to northern India. It goes as high up as Uttarakhand, Himachal and even Nepal to its breeding ground which range from lower Himalayas to central and western and eastern India, nesting from Gujarat to Bengal! Hence the fame and so many names in so many different languages.
It should make a globular structured nest now around below the 3 meter height on trees and should be ready to breed and lay eggs and rear its young. It being rather active during breeding time and vociferous too it should not be difficult to locate if you find its suitable habitat. However, do understand its breeding nesting time and so do keep appropriate distance and do not go near a nest too much as they could abandon the nest if they feel threatened.
Around the globe there are over 40 species of pittas, however the India Pitta was the first to be scientifically described and published in scientific literature in 1713. Its present day scientific name is Pitta brachyura. Perhaps the most interesting name of the Indian Pitta is from Sri Lanka, in Sinhalese it is called ‘Avichchiya’. The Sinhalese interpretation of the call of the Pitta is that the bird is complaining about the theft of its dress by a peacock!! So now you know how the Peacock got its colours and beauty! Stealing for our small dear Indian Pitta!
Now if the beauty of this fella has intrigued you and you want to find it in the wild, grab your binoculars and set out looking for it in the forests of central India to Lower Himalayas! Happy Birding!!