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pitta

pitta (pĭtˈə) [key], name used to refer to a genus ( Pitta ) of small, plump, brightly colored birds. The genus, including some twenty-three species, constitutes the whole of the family Pittidae. Known also as jewel thrushes, pittas are thrushlike only in their shy, retiring habits; they are not closely related to any other birds. They are characterized by unusually short, stubby tails, which are reduced to mere tufts in some species; long legs; and erectile crown feathers. Pittas are inhabitants of wet tropical forests and are distributed in Africa, SE Asia, India, China, Japan, the Solomon Islands and Australia. They seldom fly, except for migration. Normally, they progress by short, rapid hops. Pittas feed on grubs, insects, and land mollusks, scratched from among dead leaves and litter; they are thus sometimes called ground, or ant, thrushes. The "noisy pitta" of Australia chooses a rock or stump within its territory and uses it exclusively for cracking open land snail shells. Its large, oval nest, built from roots and leaves, is usually placed among roots or on the ground, but may also be built in trees. The hard, glossy eggs usually number from two to seven per clutch, and are typically white or cream colored, with red or purple specklings and lilac or gray undermarkings. Both male and female share incubation duties. The 61/2-in. (16.3-cm) garnet pitta ( P. granatina ) is found in Borneo. Steere's pitta ( P. steerii ), measuring 8 in. (20 cm), is common in the Philippines. Pittas are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes, family Pittidae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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