Ustica island


The natural setting of the site

Ustica is a small island of Sicily, it is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea about 70 km north of Palermo and approximately 100 km far from the Aeolian Islands. The Island occupies an area of almost 9 km2 with a circumference of 12 km. The volcanic island of Ustica constitutes the emerged portion of a large volcano forming part of a submerged volcanic mountain chain which rise up from a depth of 3000 meters in the central Mediterranean and range in continuity with the Aeolian islands. The high and steep coasts of the island are marked by fissures and cavities that originate above and below the sea surface an intricate system of caves, some of which are famous throughout the Mediterranean for their beauty as the famous “Grotta Azzurra” and “Grotta Verde”. The tips of the volcanic structures originates the three major reliefs of the island: in the central portion, aligned along an arc that bends from east to west-north-west, there are Mout “Guardia di Mezzo” (248 m) and Mount “Guardia dei Turchi” (234 m) in the easternmost part of the island, near the village of Ustica rises the Mount “Falconiera” (158 m). The north-western coast of the island is the heart of the protected marine reserve of Ustica, established in 1987, which extends all around the island coasts.

The migration survey

The observation point is located on the top of Mount Falconiera, about 160 meters above the sea. The island of Ustica is interested by migration of birds of prey mainly during spring, in this season are observed several species of raptors and other migrating birds coming from Africa to continental Italy. On the contrary post-breeding counts are scarce. Since 2002 systematic observations were done  between April 20 and May 20. Between 2004 and 2013 the LIPU-BirdLife Italy organized systematic observations at this site under the “Migrants project” covering also other islands of Sicily and the Strait of Messina. During the pre-breeding movements the commonest species observed at this site is the Honey buzzard of which about one thousand individuals are counted annually, follows the Marsh Harrier and Black Kitehose numbers range from several tens to few hundreds of birds for both species. The spring migration at the island of Ustica affects overall between 10 to 20 species of birds of prey, apart from these are regularly observed other soaring species such as the White and the Black stork. Furthermore, the migration of the bee-eater interests some thousand individuals.

How to get there?

The island of Ustica is connected to the mainland by ferries and fast-ferries leaving daily from Palermo.

MEDRAPTORS (Mediterranean Raptor Migration Network)

Main references

  • Agostini N., Gustin M., von Hardenberg J. & Panuccio M. 2016. Wind patterns affect migration flyways and flock size of a soaring bird over sea. Avian Biology Research 9(3): 159-166.
  • Panuccio M. & Agostini N. 2006. Spring migration of Pallid (Circus macrourus) and Montagu’s Harriers (Circus pygargus) in relation to age and sex classes at two watchsites of the Central Mediterranean. Buteo 15: 3-10.
  • Agostini N., Panuccio M. & Massa B. 2005. Flight behaviour of Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus) during spring migration over the sea. Buteo, 14:3-9.
  • Panuccio M., Agostini N. & Massa B. 2004. Spring raptor migration over Ustica, southern Italy. British Birds, 97: 400-403.
  • Panuccio M., Agostini N. & Massa B. 2002. Crossing the Tyrrhenian Sea, spring migration of Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus), sex classes and relation to wind conditions. Vogelwarte, 41: 271-275.