Common throughout Europe, the redwing thrush tardus iliacus winters in Sicily. Sightings of the songbird, which Italians call the sassello, are not as common in Sicily as they were fifty years ago. The redwing thrush resembles the more common song thrush but has prominent yellow stripes over its eyes. It is brownish and gray with red coloring under its wings.
The redwing rarely breeds in Sicily, preferring central and northern Europe during the warmer months. However, it enjoys Sicily's fields and bush in colder periods. The redwing sometimes falls prey to hawks but it is legally protected from hunters. In Southern Europe, it eats berries and similar fruits. These nomadic birds migrate as far as Georgia and Iran. A few remain in Sicily through the summer. Adults grow to a length of about twenty-one centimetres, or just over eight inches.
Its reddish plumage is often quite pale. This is why, from a distance, the redwinged thrush is often indistinguishable from the more common sparrow. Its cheerful song, however, is unique. Though the birds do not always travel in flocks, they sometimes roost in groups, with numerous couples occupying the same tree or woods. This practice is quite rare among the birds that have been tracked in Sicily.
I recently saw a redwinged thrush in central Palermo near the coast on the Foro Italico in a tree along the walkway below the Mura delle Cattive and Palazzo Butera not far from Porta Felice (the edge of the old popular Al Khalesa quarter of Arab Palermo), proof that the birds will endure and survive urban challenges such as smoggy Italian cities.
LIPU, an Italian environmental and bird protection agency, advocates an active conservation program, though this has not augmented the redwing population of southern Italy to its former numbers. Nevertheless, the presence of this graceful creature is a welcome sign of Sicily's naturalistic heritage.
About the Author: Vincenzo Mormino has written about wildlife and nature for Best of Sicily and hard-copy publications.