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Pipits of Sicily
by Vincenzo Mormino

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Richard's pipit.They are not, generally speaking, a very colorful or interesting genus, but they sing, and what would early mornings be without the chirps of birds? Pipits are a large group of "passerine" songbirds which breed in northern Europe, as far as Siberia, venturing into parts of Alaska, and passing the Winter and early Spring in places like Sicily. The red throated pipit (anthus cervinus) and Richard's pipit (anthus richardi) have been spotted in Sicily in recent years. Of the family Motacillidae, pipits are small birds with medium to long tails. Most of the thirty-odd species are in the genus Anthus. They are slender, typically brownish with some white or grey plumage, and feed on insects, spiders and, occasionally, seeds. These migratory birds prefer fields, where they nest.

The meadow pipit (anthus pratensis), which Italians call the pispola, has also been seen in Sicily. Though not as colorful as the red throated pipit (pispola golarossa to Italians), which is quite similar, it is a sociable bird with a distinctive call. Averaging around 14-17 centimeters in length, pipits are among the world's most widespread bird species; there are even American pipits.

Sicily's grassy fields are the perfect environmernt for pipits. Though rare, they are not, strictly speaking, vagrants" --the term for birds that wander beyond normal migratory territories-- in Sicily. Wintering in Sicily and Calabria, they have been seen in this region as late as March.

Pipits, a protected species, are occasionally hunted (illegally) in Sicily, though they are few enough in number to constitute a rare "niche" target. They occasionally fall prey to eagles and hawks.

"Ordinary" birds such as the pipit survive in spite of man's attempts to exploit the environment. Rural Sicily, though largely deforested, offers the perfect agricultural terrain for pipits. It's unfortunate that they don't spend more time here, where their happy song is always welcome.

About the Author: Vincenzo Mormino has written about wildlife and nature for Best of Sicily and hard-copy publications.

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© 2004 Vincenzo Mormino