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Hampshire sparrow sprinkles mystery and intrigue

News Icon 14/05/2014

It’s been over a week since our celebrity bird was first spotted in the Meon valley, Hampshire; showing characteristics of an Italian Sparrow, rather than the common-all-garden House version. Not surprisingly, he’s attracted a steady stream of admirers, from as far afield as Kent and Nottinghamshire; hoping to get a glimpse, a photograph and a guess on his true identity.

We first noticed him on Monday 5th May; a balmy bank holiday afternoon, perfect for sitting out on the patio enjoying the sunshine and the birds on our giant Pyracantha bush. We’d noticed the odd bright-cheeked individual amidst the local population but then something different caught our eye; vivid colours, a reddish-brown cap, white cheeks and pale spots in front of the eyes.

Grabbing my field guide, the nearest picture was ‘Italian’ Sparrow. I got some photos and shared them with the guys at Rare Bird Alert (RBA). Their response what that our bird looked like one seen in Norfolk last year (2013) and agreed it resembled “closely” an Italian Sparrow.

I was warned that only a DNA test would really sort it out. So now we monitor the bird’s movements closely in case there’s a chance of scooping up one of his droppings or catching a feather! As a parting shot, RBA said, “these Italian-like Sparrows are something of a mystery”; all adding to the intrigue.

So, what could the bird be? Well, ordinarily, the Italian Sparrow breeds on mainland Italy, Corsica and Sicily. They don’t migrate much, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that one hitched a lift on a passing ship bound for the English south coast. Or it could be a hybrid between our local village House Sparrows and the Tree Sparrow, a once common farmland bird all but wiped out in Britain by intensive farming practices; something documented in my book, ‘Farmageddon’.

Opinion varies amongst the twitchers who have taken an interest. Some are convinced he’s a hybrid. Others, like one of Britain’s top twitchers, Lee Evans who wrote to me, think he could be good for an Italian.

Whatever the truth of the matter; hybrid, aberrant House, or a good ‘Italian’, he’s a striking looking bird. We’re glad he chose our garden for a while. He brings interest to the village; for those who see him, he makes their day; and he brings extra trade to the pub next door.

As I write, he’s collecting nest material. So if we don’t have a hybrid already in our Meon valley village, I’ve got a feeling we soon will…


To get your copy of Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat, click here


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