The Italian Almanac


Flying Commuters

Italy's big cities are inundated with starlings each night as thousands of birds return home from their daily commute to the countryside, according to the Italian Bird Protection League (LIPU). Following a weekend of bird-watching by volunteers across the nation, LIPU confirmed that starlings are the country's "number one bird", with massive numbers bedding down each night in Rome and Naples.

According to the expert, starlings are drawn to cities because of the warmth, and usually settle in parks or tree-lined streets for the night. By day, they head for the countryside in order to forage for food. They are apparently particularly partial to traditional Italian specialties, nabbing grapes from vineyards in the north and snatching olives and native berries from plantations in the centre and south.

Most of the country's starlings will leave Italian cities for cooler climes come March but during their five-month stay, they regularly wreak havoc. Starling droppings, a seasonal menace to residents of several Rome districts, have also started disrupting traffic circulation and even causing road accidents in recent years. Having abandoned their previous dormitory in the trees near Castel Sant'Angelo, a large flock of birds has shifted across the river and taken up residence in the trees lining one of the capital's main north-south thoroughfares.

The starlings' daily discharge, when combined with a shower of rain, turns the traditional Roman cobblestones into a skating rink for cars and mopeds. A variety of techniques have been tried with little long-term success, including playing CD recordings of starling alarm calls and shining powerful torches up into the trees.