Vatican City, the smallest independent state in the world, has a surprising array of wildlife within its .17-square-mile walled enclave.
Collared doves, a relative of pigeons, are by far the most visible species at Vatican City. Like pigeons, these intelligent birds thrive in urban areas, enjoying human handouts and taking advantage of structures and spilled food.
Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons
The red fox -- sometimes called the cross fox or the silver fox -- is native to Vatican City. "Red foxes are adaptable and opportunistic omnivores," according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, "and are capable of successfully occupying urban areas."
Mike Baird, Wikimedia Commons
The Peregrine falcon, a bird of prey, is a fairly common visitor to Vatican City. The bird can nest on human structures, and it feasts on human food waste, smaller birds, small mammals and insects.
This falcon is renowned for its speed, reaching over 200 miles per hour during high speed hunting dives.
Andreas Trepte, Wikimedia Commons
Many birds fly into Vatican City, including the common kestrel. They eat small mammals, such as mice, helping to keep the rodent population in balance.
Hans Hillewaert, Wikimedia Commons
The wood mouse is found in Vatican City, and nesting mice have been found in the Vatican itself.
Library of Congress
The Vatican Gardens used to feature caged wild animals brought in from other countries, including ostriches and lions. Pope Pius X (1835-1914), now Saint Pius, banned this practice, which he believed was inhumane.
The wryneck is a type of woodpecker found in Vatican City. Their name comes from their ability to turn their heads nearly 180 degrees.
Alan Vernon, Wikimedia Commons
One of the most colorful species to visit Vatican City is the yellowhammer. Beethoven admitted the famous first four notes of his Fifth Symphony were inspired by the yellowhammer’s song.
Justin Ennis, Flickr
Birds rest on statues atop St. Peter’s Basilica.
One of the most memorable, dramatic avian sights for tourists is the annual fly-by of starlings, which sweep over The Holy See and Rome while migrating.
Mike Randolph/Getty Images
The Vatican Museum features statues, tapestries and other works of art that depict animals.
Today’s sitting popes are forbidden from keeping pets, however. One perk of cat lover Pope Benedict XVI’s abdication is that he can now freely visit with Chico, a black and white domestic shorthair cat, and a multicolored tabby feline that both live at his home in Tübingen, Germany.