Archived 2017 topics: Italian Sparrow (Passer italiae): uplist to Vulnerable?

Italian Sparrow, Passer italiae, is a recently split species that is currently listed as Least Concern as it was not thought to approach the threshold for Vulnerable under any criterion. This species has a moderately large range, occurring throughout Italy, with small breeding populations also found in Corsica (France), Crete (Greece), Switzerland and Slovenia (see BirdLife International 2015). It is potentially the most numerous bird in Italy (Summers-Smith 2017). The European Red List of Birds estimated its population to be 2,173,000-3,629,000 pairs, equivalent to 4,346,000-7,258,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015), while the Italian Red List estimated 10,000,000-20,000,000 individuals in the country (Peronace et al. 2012). Therefore, it would not approach the threshold for listing as Vulnerable under criteria B, C or D.

However, the species has undergone a recent rapid decline in Italy (Peronace et al. 2012, BirdLife International 2015). The causes behind this decline are, as of yet, uncertain, although the similar P. domesticus and P. hispaniolensis have suffered declines as a result of changing agricultural practices, such as increased use of pesticides, which reduces the amount of available prey (see BirdLife International 2015). However, it has also been suggested that urban populations may be declining (Brichetti et al. 2008, Summers-Smith 2017), and so this is unlikely to be the sole cause of population declines in this species.

The only country within this species’s range where declines have been noted is Italy (BirdLife International 2015), where the rate of decline has been estimated at 30-40% between 2000 and 2012 (BirdLife International 2015), 47% between 2000 and 2010 (LIPU & Rete Rurale Nazionale 2011), 54.2% between 2000 and 2015 (E. de Carli in litt. 2017), and 50% in northern Italy between 1996 and 2006 (Brichetti et al. 2008). Combining and extrapolating the trend estimates from Italy and other countries produces an overall rate of decline between 36% and 51% over 3 generations (c. 18 years). Species declining at a rate of 30-49% over three generations qualify for listing as Vulnerable under Criterion A, while those declining at 50-79% over 3 generations qualify for listing as Endangered.

As the causes of declines in this species are uncertain, it may be conservative to assume that they may continue into the future. Therefore, it is proposed that this species be listed as at least Vulnerable under criteria A2bce+3bce+4bce.

We welcome any further comments or information regarding this proposed uplisting.



BirdLife International. 2015. European Red List of Birds. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

Brichetti, P.; Rubolini, D.; Galeotti, P.; Fasola, M. 2008. Recent declines in urban Italian Sparrow Passer (domesticus) italiae populations in northern Italy. Ibis 150: 177-181.

LIPU & Rete Rurale Nazionale 2011. Lo stato degli uccelli comuni in Italia. MIPAAF

Peronace, V.; Cecere, J. G.; Gustin, M.; Rondinini, C. 2012. Lista Rossa 2011 degli Uccelli Nidificanti in Italia. Avocetta 36: 11-58.

Summers-Smith, D. 2017. Italian Sparrow (Passer italiae). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 8 March 2017).

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5 Responses to Archived 2017 topics: Italian Sparrow (Passer italiae): uplist to Vulnerable?

  1. Nicola Baccetti & Alessandro Andreotti says:

    Defining a threat category for a species numbering millions of pairs in its main range country and being one of the 2-3 most abundant ones poses some philosophical questions. We undestand the data which support the proposal, but the current population size and range (and habitat preference) seem to warrant that there is no real risk of a future extinction, even in the long term and especially after the cessation ten years ago of its quarry status.
    Some further consideration follow:
    – We doubt that monitoring such an abundant species is accurate enough to provide a measurement of the variations within a limited (small) number of years.
    – Colonial species that are mainly breeding inside or around urban areas give probably an imprecise information on population size when they are mainly censused in the countryside, along with many other songbird species (a more extreme example of this difficulty we see is the Common Swift, just to be clear).
    – We think that data collected ad hoc would be needed, IF IT IS FELT that the situation of the Italian Sparrow is really worrying.
    – From a practical point of view, we fear that any action directed to improving sparrows’ conservation would hardly be effective (as largely depending on several human-related factors) and would divert resources from many other species with a less favourable status.
    We invite you to consider these aspects, and not only demographic parameters, when assessing species like this.

  2. Mito monitoring programme, despite its limits, has provided the data for the reporting of the birds directive for this species. A significant proportion of sampling points was situated within urban centers. Of course, we would welcome a dedicated monitoring study on the species. But we think that currently it is fair to apply the red list criteria as they are without exceptions.

    Concerning the resources, a chronic underspending on monitoring and implementation of SAPs is a serious issue, with or without a monitoring programme on the Italian sparrow.

    For example, Gustin, Celada and Gaibani in a report for the Ministry of Env, have shown that the level of implementation of existing SAPs in Italy is far from satisfactory.

  3. Michele Sorrenti says:

    Data on Italian population are very clear, the decline is evident and moderate from 2000 to 2014 the index changed in -54,83%. The removal of species from huntable list it happened 20 years ago (DPCM 21 march 1997), so it is speculative to consider that as a warranty of good conservation of the species. The uplisting in Vulnerable could help many subject for actions in farmland habitat, for the benefit of sparrow and other farmland species.

  4. Peter Knaus says:

    Italian Sparrow is monitored in Switzerland within the project “Monitoring common breeding birds”. Since 1999, the populations of about 150 breeding bird species are surveyed in 267 1-km squares laid out as a representative grid across all of Switzerland. Italian Sparrow is present in only c. 10 sites annually, and the numbers fluctuate without clear trend. Also results from the new Swiss breeding bird atlas 2013–2016 indicate that the breeding area remained unchanged since 1993–1996. Some sites at the fringes of the area were newly discovered in 2013–2016, but were probably not well checked in 1993–1996.

  5. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2017 Red List would be to list:

    Italian Sparrow as Vulnerable under criterion A2bce+3bce+4bce.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 4 August, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from the initial proposal.

    The final 2017 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

Comments are closed.