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Variable Pitohui

Miranda Krestovnikoff presents the poisonous variable pitohui from New Guinea.

Tweet of the Day is the voice of birds and our relationship with them, from around the world.

Miranda Krestovnikoff presents the poisonous variable pitohui from New Guinea. This jay sized, black-and-tan bird hides a dark secret. Named for their voice, pitohui is a representation of their song and 'variable' refers to their plumage colour which varies across their range. What is striking about this bird is that it is poisonous: its skin and feathers contain powerful neurotoxic alkaloids similar to those of South American poison-dart frogs. For the pitohui, this chemical defence is unlikely to be fatal to predators which prey on them; rather it discourages further attacks. People who've handled have suffered burning sensations in the mouth, numbness in fingers and bouts of sneezing. It is not recommended.

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2 minutes

Variable pitohui (Pitohui kirhocephalus)

Webpage image courtesy of Jack Dumbacher.  © Jack Dumbacher

Recording of Variable pitohui by Andrew L Mack / Ref: ML 79806

This programme contains a wildtrack recording of the variable pitohui kindly provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; recorded by Andrew L Mack on 15 Apr 1996, in Papua New Guinea.

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