Thursday, 5 April 2012

Italian Sparrows

Highly underrated the Italian race of House Sparrow. They are pretty creatures although apparently not worthy of species status as they seem to have started off as House/Spanish Hybrids. They also seem to hybridise with House Sparrows in the north and Spanish in the south. There is also quite an obvious clinal variation with those from the islands of the far south approaching Spanish Sparrows while those from the north are quite distinct (see below).  The most obvious feature is the lack of grey on the crown - in the photos of the males from the Naples area below (winter/spring), you can see a bit of grey at the tips of the feathers but this wears off to leave an all chestnut crown (see the male from Northern Italy in July). Overall, they are very uniformly reddish chestnut instead of the various shades of brown of House Sparrow. Note how the crown contrasts with the relatively large area of clean white (variable in size) around the eye in Italian Sparrow and compare that to House Sparrow. Note also how the photo from Lampedusa (an island between Sicily and Libya) shows extensive white in front of the eye like Spanish Sparrow as well as quite a bit of black contrasting with paler colors on the mantle and distinct black marking down the flanks. The other feature which is oft discussed is bib size. This is highly dependent on the time of year as depicted below (as the tips wear during the year, more black appears). In breeding male italae, the bib is larger than House Sparrow and never with a tidy edge - the further south you go, the more chevrons appear below the bib (like Spanish). I always think that the belly of italae is paler and cleaner than House Sparrow although the photos I took this week near Naples would tend to go against that.
Females are apparently indistinguishable.

Enough spouting on something I probably don't know enough about - it was probably best to have skipped the text and gone straight to the photos!

Male Naples (April)
Male HS, Spain (August)
Male HS, Scilly (May)

Male Naples (April)

Female, Naples (April)
Male, Naples (January)
Male Lampedusa (far south of Italy; March)

Male Novara, Northern Italy (July)

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