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Northern Variable Pitohui - BirdForum Opus

Revision as of 23:49, 22 May 2021 by Njlarsen (talk | contribs) (taxon)
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Photo by Mehd Halaouate
Taja, Papua, September 2006
Pitohui kirhocephalus


23 to 25.5 cm, 9-10 inches 75-83 g

  • A species with many different forms and some sexual diamorphism
  • Nominate subspecies (kirhocephalus):
    • Grey head
    • Dark reddish-brown upperparts
    • Brownish grey upperwing and tail
    • Grey throat
    • Rust coloured underparts
    • Reddish brown iris
    • Black beak
    • Grey legs
    • Sexes alike
    • Immature similar to adults
  • Decipiens
    • Blacker wings and tail
    • Male has much darker head
    • Female has slightly darker head
  • Dohertyi
    • similar to decipiens, but
    • Black wings and tail
    • Darker and richer body
    • Male has black head
    • Female has blackish head
  • Rubiensis
    • Similar to decipiens, but
    • Male has paler head and tail
    • Female slightly paler head and tail than male
  • Brunneivertex
    • Brown head and throat
    • Bright rust coloured underparts
    • Crown and side of head same or slightly paler
    • Remainder of upperparts, tail and outer edges of remiges light reddish-brown
    • Horn coloured beak
  • Jobiensis
    • Similar to brunneivertex, but
    • Entire plumage is deeper and richer reddish-brown
    • Pale bill
  • Meyeri
    • Similar to brunneivertex, but
    • Paler underparts, more rust brown
    • Slightly paler head
    • Darker, more grey-brown throat
    • Paler underparts
  • Senex
    • Grey head and throat
    • similar to nominate, but underparts slightly paler
  • Brunneicaudus
    • Grey head and throat
    • Overall less rich colouring than nominate


Endemic to New Guinea.
Common to very common.


Southern Variable Pitohui, Raja Ampat Pitohui, and Northern Variable Pitohui were previously included in Variable Pitohui


Nine subspecies are recognized[1].

  • P. k. decipiens in southwest New Guinea (Onin Peninsula)
  • P. k. kirhocephalus on coastal northeast New Guinea (Vogelkop to Geelvink Bay region)
  • P. k. dohertyi in northwest New Guinea (islands and peninsulas of Wandammen area)
  • P. k. rubiensis in northwest New Guinea (head of Geelvink Bay south to Triton Bay and Etna Bay); also Adi Island (off southern coast of the Bomberai Peninsula)
  • P. k. brunneivertex in western New Guinea (southeast coast of Geelvink Bay)
  • P. k. jobiensis on Kurudu Island and Yapen Island
  • P. k. meyeri in coastal northern New Guinea (Mamberamo River to Tami River)
  • P. k. senex in northern New Guinea (upper Sepik Valley)
  • P. k. brunneicaudus in northern New Guinea (lower Sepik River to upper Ramu River)


Moist lowland forests. Found up to 1100m, locally to 1500m.



The diet includes insects and berries.
Often hiding in dense vegetation.
Forages in mixed flocks


Breeding recorded in June and July. No other information.


A loud song consisting of a mixture of meldious whistles and scratchy elements, start with short notes increasing in volume with longer pitch increases. Often includes rising whistles, 2 notes with the second somewhat higher, staccato whistles and rising series of rattles, e.g. “tow-hu, towhíhu-uwuwu, tow-whííéw, towhuwhéu, towwwééíí, tu-wu”; often given by two birds in duet, one member of pair starts, quickly joined by other, also by neighbouring males when countersinging. Additionally 5 loud, harsh syllables with short pause after first note, “eeek, ukíkokíéw”. In duet at dawn, first bird gives whistled upslur, second answers with staccato “tup”. Call conists of a rising note.


Resident species.


Pitohui and Ifrita accumulate batrachotoxins within their skin structures by eating Choresine beetles[6] (family Melyridae), which produce the toxins. This phenomenon was discovered after ornithologists researching the species suffered red spots on their hands after handling the birds for banding.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliott, and D Christie, eds. 2007. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8496553422
  3. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive (retrieved February 2016)
  4. Gill F, D Donsker & P Rasmussen (Eds). 2021. IOC World Bird List (v11.1). doi : 10.14344/IOC.ML.11.1. http://www.worldbirdnames.org/#Thread in the Birdforum Taxonomy Forum.
  5. Dumbacher JP, Wako A, Derrickson SR, Samuelson A, Spande TF, Daly JW (2004). "Melyrid beetles (Choresine): a putative source for the batrachotoxin alkaloids found in poison-dart frogs and toxic passerine birds"
  6. Birdforum members Rasmus Boegh and Steve Pryor observations

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