Graeme Chapman - natural history photographer - ornithologist

Australian Birds

Red-bellied Pitta
Pitta erythrogaster
(Viewing 4 of 4 photos)

Click to listen to sound samples Red-bellied Pittas are one of the most beautiful and exotic birds to occur in Australia and also one of the most sought-after by keen birdwatchers. Unless you go to New Guinea, you have to visit the humid rainforests of northern Cape York Peninsula in the wet season - that is between December and March. Not only will you get wet, you may even be marooned by rising rivers or local flooding. Many people seek them at Iron Range, now easily accessible by vehicle, but few succeed. You can't really risk staying there after mid-December and at that time they are only just arriving from New Guinea.

Really keen birdwatchers fly in and out to Cape York in the wet season and join one of the bird weeks that are held there every year.

I took these pictures in the Lockerbie Scrub at the tip of Cape York in January 1990 when the birds were calling well and not too difficult to locate. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time on that trip to locate a nest where I may have been to do better than these snapshots. Red-bellied Pittas place their nests in more varied, harder-to-find situations than do Noisy Pittas where you can usually succeed by simply searching around the tree buttresses. I'll never forget the sight of the bird in pic 353203 as it hopped along the forest floor in the soft afternoon light amongst a maze of native ginger - not really shy but seemingly always behind a leaf - and rarely standing to pose for more than a second or two, doubly difficult for me for in those days before digital cameras, the exposure was 1 second at f/5.6 in the natural light (I prefer not to use flash in rainforest - the results are invariably harsh).

Red-bellied Pittas have a fairly distinctive and rather sad sounding call nothing like either the Noisy or Rainbow Pitta (listen on sound page). Homing in on the call is probably the best way of locating them in the rainforest. Winter sightings in Australia are rarely made - all the more difficult because the birds are fairly silent then.

Photo: 353201

353201 ... Red-bellied Pitta.

Photo: 353202

353202 ... Red-bellied Pitta, adult, Lockerbie Scrub, Cape York.

Photo: 353203

353203 ... Red-bellied Pitta amongst native ginger.

Photo: 353206

353206 ... Red-bellied Pitta.

Return to Photo Library page