This Recently Discovered Hooded Pitohui Is The First Confirmed “Poisonous” Bird Ever Discovered
A poisonous bird is a concept my mind is having a hard time latching on to. The Hooded Pitohui, however, is an example of such a venomous bird. Found only in New Guinea, it’s the only bird science has discovered that’s actually poisonous.
What Makes The Hooded Pitohui Poisonous?
Batrachotoxin, the poisonous element on the Hooded Pitohui is the same chemical substance found in poisonous frogs. In 1989, a scientist named Jack Dumbacher found some of these birds tangled in a net in the forests of New Guinea. Having set it up for research, he regularly had to untangle wildlife.
He cut his hands while he was untangling the birds from the net. However, he found that the cuts hurt a lot more than they should. When he put his cut finger in his mouth to ease the wound… his mouth started to burn as well.
This researcher would soon find out that the locals referred to this bird as the “rubbish bird” because eating it was no good. Basically, it didn’t serve them a purpose so they relegated it to “rubbish”.
When Dumbacher sent samples in to his lab, sure enough they found the batrachotoxin in the feathers of the birds. Researchers were as surprised as the scientist who discovered the toxic birds. This was officially the first known poisonous bird!
What Does Batrachotoxin Do?
Batrachotoxin is an extremely potent cardio and neuro-toxic compound found in certain species of beetles, birds, and frogs. Basically, it’s an extremely poisonous alkaloid.
Because of this, local tribes have used darts with the poison from frogs against their enemies for generations. In extreme quantities and situations, batrachotoxin binds to and irreversibly opens the sodium channels of nerve cells and prevents them from closing.
This, sadly for those affected, can result in paralysis and death. There is no antidote for this poison.
Where Is The Hooded Pitohui Found?
Found only in New Guinea, the Hooded Pitohui is endemic to these beautiful islands just above Australia. You can find them all over the main island, and also on the close island of Yapen. The Hooded Pitohui inhabits rainforest, forest edge habitats, and secondary growth.
For the most part, you’ll find the only poisonous bird in hills and low mountain ranges. Their diet is dominated by fruit (especially figs, just like the Vampire Parrot of New Guinea), grass seeds, some insects and small invertebrates.
Are They Dangerous To Humans?
The toxic nature of the Hooded Pitohui has long been known to locals in New Guinea. The knowledge, in fact, has been recorded by Western scientists going back to 1895. However, before the discovery in 1989, toxicity was not a trait that scientists attributed to birds.
Touching the Hooded Pitohui will cause burning and pain in your skin. Eating said bird will have much more detrimental effects. We firmly recommend that you do not substitute your chicken dinner with this poisonous variation; it will not make your belly happy and you might die. Just kidding, it’s so small you probably won’t die but still, let’s not eat them.