When cold winters in northern Europe send the hoards flocking southwards, many make a stopover at the Bird Hotel.
Vendicari, a protected coastal area in the southernmost corner of Sicily, has been dubbed the “Bird Hotel,” for its population of migratory birds. From fall through spring, human visitors are rewarded with sightings of elegant flamingoes, grey and purple herons, red-legged stilts, black cormorants perched on rocks with their wings spread to the wind, avocets with their long curved beaks, black and white storks, little terns and snowy white egrets.
Then there are the foraging spoonbills swinging their long beaks through the water, glossy ibis, hundreds of ducks including the plump shellduck that is the park’s symbol, and the gaudy bee-eater – and that’s just to name a very few. Every week during the migratory season the population of the Bird Hotel changes, and birdwatchers will rarely be disappointed.
Many birds stay in the marshes – some of which were once used for gathering sea salt – to rest and fatten up before flying on to winter in Africa, and then reverse their route in springtime. A number of birds find that Vendicari’s mild climate is just fine, and stay the winter, flying back north in spring.
There is also a population of about 30 flamingoes that have made Vendicari their permanent home. Since this corner of Sicily is roughly at the same latitude as Tunis, with the mildest winter weather in Europe, they find that the Bird Hotel is ideal as a full-time residence, too.
About one hour south of Syracuse, Vendicari is open every day from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm and there are bird blinds for viewing at the edge of 3 different
pantani, the marshes where most birds are to be found. Bring your binoculars and enjoy the peaceful surroundings, thanking environmentalists for saving this little piece of paradise from a developer’s bulldozers.
An expert on walking and culinary tours in many areas of Italy, with a special focus on Sicily, Anita Iaconangelo is the founder of
Italian Connection Tours and author of the blog Anita’s Italy. She is currently at work on a book entitled Savoring Sicily: A Culinary Quest.