Estate agent: Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Cuban Sparrow!
Female: Er, Zapata Sparrow?
Estate agent: Yes yes of course! Do come in and grab a perch. I’ve got some great properties to show you! But before we dive in, I need to confirm some details.
Estate agent: Full name?
Male: Torreornis inexpectata inexpectata.
Estate agent: No need to repeat that, I can remember.
Estate agent: So you need somewhere romantic for your duets…sawgrass to weave your nest…plenty of seeds in the dry season…and you also go carnivore in the wet season, is that right?
Male: Well, just the odd lizard.
Estate agent: Great! So based on your picks I have three locations for you today, and to make things more fun, I’ve named them after the resident subspecies. Isn’t that convenient! Especially if you’re trying to learn something.
Why don’t we start with this one. It’s along the beautiful Guantánamo coastline, and named in honour of a conservationist and bird lover: the T. i. sigmani district!
Female: Hmm, I heard the sigmanis are noisy neighbours. They’re always having song duels.
Estate agent: You know, that’s exactly what Regalado Ruiz thought when he discovered them. But it’s their version of your romantic duet! And to be fair, if I had the palest plumage, I’d want to make the most noise too.
Female: Yeah…doesn’t change the fact they’re too loud.
Estate agent: Well, I can assure you the other locals are quiet. Do you like sheep? Of course you do! And they love grass as much as you do. Only to eat.
Male: They need a lot of land though don’t they? Is there enough room?
Estate agent: Sure, as long as they burn down the wild areas.
Male and female: What???
Estate agent: Never heard of a cleansing fire? Besides, it’s on the coast. Plenty of water to cool down, or escape the odd blaze. Okay fine, if you want a cooler, semi-deciduous forest instead, then the T. i. varonai is your guy!
Really, this place on Cayo Coco is amazing – shady trees, bright limestone, and don’t go thinking it’s dull just because it’s a forest. You like socialising, don’t you?
Female: We sometimes go out in a foursome, yes.
Estate agent: Well this place is so lively, they’re building loads of hotels, and there’s even an airport…for humans. Ah. Sorry, I’ve got the wrong notes.
Female: That’s disappointing. Aren’t they digging massive holes in the earth as well? That can’t be good.
Estate agent: Well, where else will they get building materials? But fair enough, that’s another “no”. What about the lovely northern coast? The largest wetland in the Caribbean? You’ve got to love it, it’s literally got your name on it – the T. i. inexpectata district, otherwise known as…the Zapata Swamp!
Lush, humid, beautiful mangroves, and loads of variety in your neighbours – almost half of Cuba’s bird species! Good for spotting danger, and you’ll never get bored of the view. And if it gets too chilly, well, there’s the odd “cleansing fire” to keep things toasty here too. The humans are draining it as well, so it’s not as wet and gunky as it used to be.
Male: No good. We already live there.
Estate agent: Oh dear! Seems I failed to find the Cuban sparrows a home. Heh, I guess I was close, but no cig-
Male and female: NO.
Latin: Torreornis inexpectata / inexpectata / sigmani / varonai
What? Greyish-yellow sparrow only found in Cuba
Where? Take a guess from the above.
How big? 16.5 cm / 6.5 inches long
Endangered? Upgraded by the IUCN from Endangered to Vulnerable in 2016. However, all three subspecies are still at risk from habitat loss.
Probable motto: I can live in dry, wet, or wooded areas. As long as they’re all in Cuba.
They look cute. Do they need my help at all?
Although they mostly live in different areas – T. i. inexpectata in the Zapata Swamp, T. i sigmani along the southern coast, and T. i. varonai on Cayo Coco – all three subspecies are at risk of habitat loss from urban development, swamp drainage, livestock farming and invasive plant species.
However, I couldn’t find any current conservation projects, so instead, feel free to send some love to the Nature Conservancy for protecting Cuba’s coral reefs and mangroves.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
“Cuba“. No date. WWF.
Isada, Alain Parada, and Torres, Eliser Socarrás. 2010. “Discovery of the Cuban sparrow (Torreornis inexpectata varonai) on Cayo Romano, Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago, Cuba“. Journal of Caribbean Ornithology 23(1):52-54.
Kim, H. and D. L. Slager. 2015. “Zapata Sparrow (Torreornis inexpectata)“, version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Morton, Eugene S., and Gonzalez Alonso, Hiram J. 1982. “The biology of Torreornis inexpectata I. A comparison of vocalizations in T. i. inexpectata and T. i. sigmani“. The Wilson Bulletin 94(4):433-446.
Spence, Matthew J. and Smith, Barton L. 1961. “A subspecies of Torreornis inexpectata from Cuba“. Auk 78(1):95-97.
“Torreornis inexpectata“. No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Featured image credit: “Cuban Sparrow aka Zapata Sparrow (Torreornis i. inexpectata)” by Allan Hopkins