Best of Sicily
Food & Wine
Map of Sicily
Since its oldest colour portrait appears in Sicily, as a mosaic in Piazza Armerina's ancient Roman villa (where two
birds are depicted pulling a chariot), it seems appropriate that the Purple
Swamp Hen should find a nesting place in Sicily following an absence
of about forty years. Known to scientists as Porphyrio porphyrio
for its deep blue --almost purplish-- plumage, the unique bird called the
Pollo Sultano (literally "Sultan Cock") in Italian and
Iaddu Fascianu in Sicilian migrates throughout the western Mediterranean
coastal wetlands. This graceful Eurasian species is seen in Sardinia, Spain,
Portugal and northern Africa, and has been watched as far north as Denmark,
having been introduced in other parts of the world as well. As Sicily's
wetlands diminished, so did the island's appeal to the Mediterranean's most
beautiful bird. Thanks to extensive conservation efforts in Spain and elsewhere,
it has been reintroduced into many of its former habitats. The Purple Swamp
Hen grows to a length of around 47 centimetres with a wingspan up to a metre,
weighing as much as a kilogramme (2.2 pounds), nesting among reeds and feeding
on swamp vegetation and certain fish and small amphibians.
During the nineteenth century, it is estimated that around 1,500 of these
graceful birds were killed in Sicily each year, particularly in the coastal
marshlands in the southeastern regions of the island. Into the twentieth
century, birds hunted near Lentini were often sold at market in Catania
as though they were chicken or partridge. Now a protected species, the Purple
Swamp Hen is being introduced in three reserves --Biviere di Gela, Foce
del Simeto and Saline di Siracusa. With birds raised on a Spanish wildlife
preserve near Valencia, the Italian government is sponsoring the programme
through two agencies, the Italian Bird Protection League (LIPU) and the
National Institute for Wild Fauna (INFS).
The only other Italian region where this species flourishes today is Sardinia.
Isola delle Femmine and other Sicilian coastal preserves will be considered
for future nesting places.
The chicks have dark plumage --almost black-- and young birds often stay with their
parents for two years before flying off to nest. The adult birds sometimes
migrate to other coastal marshes.
The Purple Swamp Hen project is an ambitious one representing a serious
attempt to reclaim Sicily's marshlands in all their natural biodiversity.
It's part of a larger Western Mediterranean movement to preserve this unique
bird in its natural environment. This effort coincides with similar programmes
in Portugal and several Spanish coastal Islands. Whether these initial efforts take flight
remains to be seen, but they're off to a good beginning.
About the Author: Vincenzo Mormino is active in wildlife preservation throughout Sicily. This is his first article for Best of Sicily.