Look Again

Does it help if I note that this curious Passer was photographed on the grounds of Puccini’s villa on Lago del Torre?

There were lots of birds to see on my scouting trip to Tuscany, but Italian Sparrows really won the heart. Every bit as confiding and friendly as their domesticus cousins, these large-billed, chestnut-crowned birds are even more dapper as they bound along the sidewalks and dip into the bread baskets at outdoor cafes.

For the birder, the real question, of course, has to do with just what the Italian Sparrow “is.” With white cheeks, a colorful crown, and often a bit of streaking at the side of the breast and flank, males look like a cross between House Sparrow and Spanish Sparrow, and have often been considered a “stable hybrid population” between the two.

That’s always struck me as faintly risible, given that Italian Sparrows breed in places like Switzerland and Austria, far from the range of Spanish Sparrow in the narrow sense; and now it seems that most sources follow Töpfer in treating the bird as a subspecies of Spanish Sparrow (though if I remember rightly, Dutch Birding gives Italian Sparrow full species status).

None of that really matters to the birds. Or to me. I just enjoyed watching them everywhere we went, and am already looking forward to repeating the experience next year on our Tuscany tour.