Saturday, October 27, 2012

Birdin' The Boot

Last week I found myself in Rome. While admiring the spectacle of the ancient sites, the renaissance sites, and the baroque sites, as well as the modern sites (and modern cuisine!), I snuck a little bit of birding in too. Unfortunately, the one excursion I made exclusively for birding was rained out almost immediately, but during this wonderful sojourn abroad I did see some new and interesting species. 

Old, New, and in's all crammed together in Rome

To be honest, my birding enthusiasm wanes a bit when I head out of the country, at least regarding listing and finding new species. Part of it is an anxiety about opening the flood gates too wide. The quest to see every North American species is reasonable. Opening myself up to European or South American birding is...dangerous, with so many new species to see, so many of which I've never even heard. At any rate, it was nice to also find a few species that also turn up or have small populations in the U.S.

In lieu of Chickadees, the European canopies are adorned with Tits. Yes, there's not really a less awkward way to say it. The Great Tits are the most visible (obviously) but Eurasian Blues and Long-tailed can turn up as well.

The Tits' cheery and chittery companion is the European Robin. They're all over the Italian Peninsula (and Europe at large). I saw them at every single site we visited outside of Rome, including up high in Orvieto and Assisi as well as the ancient ruins of Ostia.

White Wagtails are another fairly common sight in the urban greenery. Without ever compromising their excellent posture, they run around the freshly mowed park lawns and gardens, murdering many insects and staying wary of the camera.

The Hooded Crows are the corvid creme de la creme around the Ancient City. Larger and meaner than Jackdaws, they boss the garbage cans and gutters in superlative fashion. Perhaps their success is in large part due to their ability to stand up very tall.

Though corvids are regarded as very intelligent birds, these Hooded Crows had moments when they seemed to exude profound unintelligence. To be fair, I have those moments too.

However, the creepy blank stare of a Muscovy Duck is no more reassuring. These funny-faced birds have established colonies in Texas and other parts of the U.S., and are now spreading into Europe as well. If I had to pick one species that possibility germinated the avian pox and/or bird flu, I'd vote Muscovy Duck. Look at this sinister thing...

As in the U.S., Mallards still comprise 85% of the waterfowl around urban Roman ponds. Also like the U.S., there are some interesting, colorful varieties and hybrids around the urban ponds. This crusty-eyebrowed fella here, only half exposed to the light, was the size of a goose.

Luckily the manky Mallards and un-listable Muscovy Ducks weren't the only waterfowl around. Ruddy Shelducks occasionally turn up in North America. From what I've read, no one has definitively confirmed they are of wild origin, and even in their native Eurasia their populations are declining. As such, I considered myself lucky to find a pair at the Borghese Villa park in north central Rome. 

The Shelducks were probably my favorite birds of the trip. There's just something so satisfying about seeing big and new Waterfowl (and they're a mercifully straightforward lot to identify).

Perhaps the most fitting sighting of the trip was this Monk Parakeet outside of St. Paul's Cathedral. The Monk Parakeets were actually all over Rome, but always streaking by at considerable speed and with awful shrieking. 

The Rome birds were nice--a great bonus to an awesome trip. But I am really looking forward to North American birding again, particularly because it's waterfowl and sparrow season now. Yee-haw!


  1. Last year I visited Rome but only did the tourist things on a shore excursion. The only birds I saw were from the windows of the bus, and did not identify any. You did very well!

    1. Thanks Ken. When the birds are great and only a bonus, it's a great trip!

  2. Congrats on seeing so many birds in Italy Laurence!

    Now click your heels and say "there is NO place like home" three times... the waterfowl and sparrows are waiting for you!

    1. Oh my, I wish I could've gotten back to AZ that easily. Alitalia lost my luggage for 4 and a half days!

  3. Glad you found some great Italian tits!!

  4. Dickcissel, Tits, Hoary...something or other, Boobies, and I'm sure there's a bunch more......make me laugh. But I do like those Tits in Europe. I think we have the Bushtit(another awkward bit)around Madera Canyon and I am looking for it.....but it has eluded me. When I tell people I am looking for this bird, they burst out laughing. It's liking teaching "puse" to my sophomore classes. You just get to a point and roll the eyes and smile. No matter how many years I teach it or say "Titicaca" they still burst out laughing.

    Incredible birds. I know what you's all so overwhelming these birds. I've only scratched the surface in South American and Central America. And I wasn't even a real birder when I go, I'm going to be in big trouble. I'm eyeing Ecuador and Argentina next summer....around birding areas....and possibly penguins:) Glad you got to see a Wagtail. That is one incredible looking bird....well to be honest, they all are. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Yes, 1/3 of the time bird names are very dull and literal, 1/3 of the time they just seem random, and then the rest all seem to be naughty jokes. I guess that's fitting for a hobby that's hobbied by nerds :)

    Yeah, South America...what, some 2,000 species to see down there? It's Pandora's super-sized box alright. I can see the desire though, especially if there's no language barrier either. Until another big trip, day in and day out, the local birds will keep us going.