The Wonderful Wildlife Around Us
Learn and explore the amazing wildlife in Tuscany
One of the first things we noticed on our first night staying in our agriturismo was the amount of wild animals living in the woodlands around us, we saw deers, beautiful birds, wild boars and hares. Due to the frequent long and warm days, Tuscany makes the perfect place for these wild animals to live in the forests and woods, as well as the growth of fruits, berries and sometimes the vineyards make Tuscany even more suitable for these predators and prey to thrive in. As a result of the growing numbers, the region has implemented wildlife reserves, national parks and seasonal hunting opportunities for hunters, these methods help to maintain a stable number of wild animals and prevent them from invading living spaces as some may be dangerous or cause financial damage. Aside from seeing hedgehogs and toads, the longer we stayed, the more animals popped out of the woods and forests! Keeping reading to discover the amazing wildlife around us.
If you’ve only seen wild boars on nature documentaries or on the TV, get ready to see many wild boars in Tuscany! We’ve noted that they come out during the night near forests and wooded areas, we’ve never actually seen a wild boar or ‘cinghiale’ during the day. We often see the wild boars in groups, usually a mother with her cubs (who can become aggressive if she believes you’re a threat to her cubs). Wild boars are mostly black and grey of colour, with bristly hair on their back, noticed by their long snouts and surprisingly delicate trot, they normally weigh between 50-70 kg, although some can weigh up to 150 kg! In contrast, the cubs are similar to those of Walt Disney, cute chocolatey brown and black striped fluffy piglets. As cinghiali love to feed off of grapes from vineyards and berries in the many forests of Tuscany, their numbers have always been quite high. They are also known to cause a lot of damage to vineyards, being able to demolish rows of grapes and vines within minutes, reaching some losses up to millions of euros. In order to manage the growing numbers of them, the hunting season for wild boars is between the middle of September and late January, in Tuscany. For decades, even centuries, cinghiale meat has been consumed, becoming a local delicacy and emblem as well as being cooked to perfection, making ‘Pappardelle con il Sugo di Cinghiale’ (pappardelle pasta with wild boar meat sauce) known as Tuscany’s national dish. This dish can be found in nearly all of the restaurants in Tuscany and around La Torre, we also plan to have this signature dish on our menu for meat lovers.
Aside from the cute cubs, delicious meat for some and a pain for a few country workers - now some drug dealers - a fascinating story broke out in 2019, “WILD BOARS SNIFF OUT AND DESTROY €20K COCAINE STASH IN TUSCAN FOREST”. Towards the east of Tuscany, in Montepulciano, presumably a group of wild boars rather than just one alone, dug up (as they do ) a secured package of cocaine hidden away in a forest and the drug was found scattered around the wooded area. This was discovered as suspected drug traffickers had informed the police of where they hid the drugs, leading to the disclosure that the wild boars had found the drugs before the police did! Initially, we found this story funny, however after some thought, we believe the wild boars were somewhat heroic, although this activity is most certainly very dangerous for forest animals such as cinghiale and extremely careless of the drug dealers.
Roe and Fallow Deer
We remember when visiting our neighbours, the owners of the horse stables next to us, not knowing much Italian at the time, they kept pointing into their fields of fresh grass and repeated, “capriolo, capriolo”, with a confused look on both of our faces, they then started saying, “Bambi, Bambi, Bambi” - and there it was, an elegant roe deer running daintily through the field under the yellow hues of sunshine - often stopping and staring towards us. It wasn’t long before the horses outside started neighing, making the deer dart off. Funnily enough, the pattern on the deers in Tuscany is in fact very similar to the cartoon version of Bambi. The timid and smaller roe deer tends to conceal itself away in the woodland areas of Tuscany, meaning we can usually spot them in fields of grain as they come out to eat, or crossing the road from one forest to the next.
On the other hand, herds of braver fallow deers are seen more frequently in open and cultivated spaces, especially at dusk (hint - that’s the time to go out and see these majestic creatures). However female roe deers can be found during the day too as they have a built in instinct to protect their young during the night. The roe deer (capriolo in Italian) generally weighs around 30-40 kg and is commonly spotted by its 2-3 cm small white tail; during the summer this deer has a brown/red fur, whereas in the approach of the winter period, the coat becomes thicker and more grey. The male capriolo or ‘buck’ starts to shed his antlers around November which then fully regrow by May. On the contrary, the fallow deer (daino in Italian) has a longer neck, slimmer head and rarer antlers. One night, we decided to spend an evening with our binoculars to spot out these unique animals and noticed that the ends of the antlers are shaped like small-scale spades to aid the deers with lifting objects in their path, or possibly to help during an attack. Unlike the roe deer, the antlers of fallow deers shed during May and regrow within the months leading up to autumn, furthermore, their fur ranges from darker to lighter browns depending on the season. If you’re out in the woods on a lovely Tuscan nature trail and are looking to lure in some graceful deers to see or to photograph, we advise you to bring some mushrooms or blueberries as they are perfect for deers to graze on!
Whenever we see porcupines during the night (when they are mostly active) we always stop alertly and wait patiently for them to pass, due to their weak eyesight they have a more aggressive instinct to attack first and wonder later about the victim or car they threw their mini spears at. We’ve learnt that signs of anger can be: feet stamping, the rattling of their spines and grunts (any signs of those and you should probably escape!). These rather silent animals are mostly active after sunset and in the early hours before the sun rises, this is because their sharp hearing, precise sense of smell and delicate paws are more resourceful to them than eyesight during the dark - which is not as great for these spiky creatures. The porcupine’s sensitive senses help it to work better down in the burrows and underground where they’re at peace, as well as in the woods in order to protect themselves from the bigger predators. Although a little dangerous, they do sound quite down to earth, don’t they? The calm, collected and confident ‘istrici’ (porcupines in Italian), tend to walk casually instead of scuttling and weigh roughly 20 kg as an adult.
You may be wondering how did porcupines end up in Italy? Well in fact, the ancestors of the istrici in Italy were brought from Africa to Italy around 2000 years ago by the ancient Romans, initially to create another food source. Instead, as time passed and the porcupine population grew, they became the ones doing most of the eating - especially fruits such as grapes, insects and whilse finding these food sources, they tunnel under fences and ruin plant roots, driving gardeners mad (not mad enough to go after them - ha!). We know that most people visiting Tuscany don’t come for a porcupine safari, but witnessing one of these amazing creatures walk daintily across the road or through the forest could be an unexpected memory that you’ll make here. Just stay calm and collected - like them - and all should be well!
Hares are all over Tuscany and we see many of them around La Torre. A lot of people may confuse hares with rabbits (their cousins), as we did at first but there are a few differences between them; hares or ‘lepre’ in Italian are larger in size, their ears have a black tip unlike rabbits and they are usually beige-brown coloured with white fur on their bellies. The hare weighs between 2.5 - 6 kg and can normally reach a total body length of 70cm. We found it fascinating to find out that some hares in northern Italy become white during the winter period in order to camouflage in the snow. Camouflaging is a vital aspect of hares as they tend to hide in the landscape from predators rather than dig burrows and hide underground like rabbits. In fact, when the hares are not running through the countryside of Tuscany, they spend the majority of their day playing dead in the landscape, preferably on the surface of a natural depression on the ground. Hares commonly inhabit large areas of level ground land as well as farms because in the case of needing to escape from an attacker, they use their long and powerful legs to run while changing direction to bewilder, but mostly dodge the predator. This advantage is known as telemarking which is a significant difference between hares and rabbits. We were astonished to find out that hares can run up to 80 km per hour and can reach jumping lengths of up to 4 meters!
As the clear blue Tuscan sky begins to fade and night falls, that is when the hares come out and perform most of their activities. One way that we have been able to detect if a hare has been near us is by looking for scraping on the floor, most agriturismos and villas are able to tell by these particular markings. Hares eat roots, grass and vegetables (this can sometimes cause a mess in gardens), in turn, they are always on the watch for foxes, big birds such as buzzards or crows and the occasional stray dog...even some cats. We hope that Paulino, the stray cat that comes to visit us from time to time doesn’t bring a hare for dinner at La Torre!
One eerie evening driving through Corazzano (a small village in San Miniato) on our way back home, we noticed a grey dog-like animal dash across the country road! We pressed on the brakes as fast as we could, thankfully in time. After quickly examining to see the animal better, we both came to the conclusion that this furry friend was a wolf! Lupo is what the Italians call a wolf, we’ve heard it quite frequently as a few Italian parents we've met have used the threat of wolves to scare their children, rather than a monster under the bed. The number of wolves inhabiting Tuscany has gradually risen over the years, as you can see from the diagram below, Tuscany has become even more red meaning that the amount of wolves in Tuscany has increased. We’ve learnt that in 2019, there were roughly more than a hundred packs of wolves here, that’s an estimated 600-700 individual wolves!
We can assure you that there is no need to worry about a wolf attack because they have quite a shy character when it comes to humans, they are rarely seen and there hasn’t been many reports on severe incidents for a long period of time. If they are to attack, wolves most likely go for domestic farm animals such as sheeps, rabbits or chickens but most livestock are protected by electric fences and in some cases, guard dogs, our neighbour has both. As Tuscany is in need of bigger predators to keep the ecosystem balanced out, from a nature conservationist’s point of view, wolves are welcome to pervade.
The Italian wolf is rather different to the European wolf as this kind has smaller teeth and is generally smaller in size, one reason to explain the shrinkage has been that during the Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries, the reduction in numbers of red deer lead to the smaller sized wolves being able to survive more than the larger ones. Italian wolves weigh between 20-50 kg and have grey fur, although during the summer time they can become more reddish in colour.
There are some exotic birds that live or pay visits to Tuscany in which we have been able to see near our agriturismo. The flamingo has been spotted on the coasts of Tuscany, as their numbers have increased over the years in Orbetello within the Province of Grosseto in Tuscany, a nature reserve has been made there to protect these beautiful birds and kindly allow us to visit them! Another fascinating bird that you can catch a glimpse of is the Northern Bald Ibis; this bird usually migrates to Tuscany in the winter, travelling all the way from northern and central Europe. Works are being put into place to increase the numbers of the Northern Bald Ibis in Europe, although hunters tend to disrupt these thoughtful efforts by shooting at them. More grand birds that we’ve been near La Torre are: owls (look out for their eyes in the dark trees), golden eagles, storks, bearded vultures, herons, cormorants and pheasants! With more that a hundred different types of bird in Tuscany, you are bound to witness a special moment with a couple of them on your stay.
Even though we are sure that you will most certainly see some of Tuscany’s wildlife during your stay at La Torre, among the few nature reserves in Tuscany, we would advise having a fun day out in the Poppi Zoological Park of European Fauna - found in Poppi, Arezzo. This nature park was the first and only of its kind exclusively devoted to fauna within Europe, developed by Dr. Roberto Mattoni in 1972. His aim was to educate people about these precious animals that we have talked about, whilst conserving the culture of wildlife in Tuscany. Admission is only €6 and you can also buy dry food for as cheap as €0.25 to feed the animals with. On your excursion, you’ll be able to see: brown bears, a lynx, beavers, badgers, buffalos, racoons, blue foxes, white foxes, wild boars, a wolf, special eagles, wild cats and many more exciting animals! The nature reserve is completely private and is run by the five children of Dr. Mattoni. They have also built a restaurant and bars to facilitate an enjoyable, educational and relaxing day away into the nature of Tuscany.