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African Pitta

Pitta angolensis

The African pitta, Pitta angolensis, is a vibrant and plump bird, somewhat reminiscent of a thrush in its build. Despite its bright plumage, it remains an elusive creature, often hidden within the undergrowth of its habitat.

Identification Tips

Both sexes of the African pitta share a similar appearance. They exhibit a striking black crown, face, and ear coverts, contrasted by a pale salmon pink throat. A buff to brownish buff eyebrow stretches above the eye, while the flanks, breast, and neck side are mustard yellow with an olive wash on the upper breast. The wing coverts are a deep green tipped with turquoise blue, and the mantle and back are green, transitioning to a pale turquoise blue on the rump and upper tail coverts. The belly and undertail coverts are a vivid crimson red, and the legs are a soft pink. The wings are rounded, with black primaries tipped in pale and white, forming a white square visible during flight or display. Juveniles are duller with a buffy-pink vent and fawn-colored throat.


The African pitta frequents the leaf litter under the canopy of riparian or coastal forests and thickets, or in climax miombo forests. It prefers areas with dense understorey and small glades within the sub-canopy.


This species is both resident and migratory in the west, and an intra-African migrant between equatorial and southeastern Africa. It breeds in central Mozambique and migrates to the Congo Basin and southeastern Africa.


The African pitta is known for its quick hops as it moves and forages alone in leaf litter, scratching to uncover insects and mollusks. When alarmed, it may run or jump to a low branch or fly to a high branch to crouch and hide. Its flight is fast and direct.

Song & Calls

The African pitta has a repertoire of calls including a querulous scolding "skeeow," a short deep trill followed by a wing-clap, and a "sproo" note accompanied by a small jump. During migration, a croaking call may be heard, and a guttural alarm note has also been recorded.


The species is likely monogamous, with pairs displaying for a few weeks upon arrival at the breeding grounds. The display involves an explosive "quoip" call as the bird leaps from a branch, revealing the white bases of its primary feathers. The nest is a bulky, dome-shaped structure placed 2 to 4 meters above ground, with egg-laying occurring from November to December in southeastern Africa. The eggs are white or cream with grey and liver-red to blackish-brown markings.

Similar Species

The closely related green-breasted pitta (Pitta reichenowi) replaces the African pitta in the interior of Africa's tropical rainforests. There are subtle differences in plumage between the two species.

Diet and Feeding

The African pitta scratches in leaf litter to uncover its diet of insects and mollusks, occasionally flitting its tail as it walks.

Conservation Status

The African pitta is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, there has been a noted decline in some areas due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and concerns have been raised about the impact of lighted buildings on nocturnal migration.


In 1893, a monograph of the Pitta angolensis was published by American zoologist Daniel Giraud Elliot, providing an in-depth study of this species.

African Pitta Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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African Pittas on Birda

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Kelvin Zulu
28 Dec 2023 - 6:00am

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A photo of a Blue Pitta (Hydrornis cyaneus) , male

Blue Pitta

Hydrornis cyaneus
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