Hooded Pitohui The First Documented Poisonous Bird


The hooded pitohui (Pitohui dichrous) is a pitohui of New Guinea is one of few recognized poisonous birds in the world. Both male & female have black and orange patches in their plumage. This bird is normally placed in the family Oriolidae, and its close relatives are variable pitohui and rusty pitohui. The bird, hooded pitohui is about the size of a blue jay and is familiar to local villagers and ornithologists alike. But only now have scientists learned that the bird harbors a poison. Pitohuis are normally about 23 cm long with strong legs and a powerful beak.

Therefore, the first known poisonous bird is “common quail” that cause coturnism. So, neurotoxin named “homobatrachotoxin”, found in the birds’ skin and feathers, causes numbness and tingling in those touching the bird. It is believed, that bird has taken poisons from their diet, which is mainly comprises of Choresine beetles of the Melyridae family. These exclusive beetles are probably source of lethal batrachotoxins found in Colombia’s poison dart frogs. Moreover this species population is not quantified but believed not approaching thresholds for vulnerable. The hooded pitohui is common and widespread in New Guinea and is evaluated as least concern on the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species.

This is unbelievable that a bird had never before found an example of a bird using a chemical defense against its enemies. However, fish, amphibians, insects, and reptiles are well equipped with noxious compounds that make them repugnant, but birds were thought to rely on fast flight to escape being eaten. Indisputably, there are other bird species that have chemical self-defense mechanisms to stop predators from eating them, but to date, this is the only bird found to actually be poisonous to humans. However, the natives of New Guinea do eat them, but tip off they must be prepared very prudently, including skinning. So the bird has been labeled to the venomous creatures of the earth.1 2

Hooded Pitohui - PNG   (Poision skin and feathers)
Hooded Pitohui – PNG (Poision skin and feathers)

4 5 6 Hooded Pitohui, one of the only known poisonous birds. This illustration shows the bird in its environment along with information on the toxin and possible source of the toxin.