CIRL BUNTING (Emberiza cirlus)


This stunning relative of the yellowhammer is not a common sight in the UK, in fact, it is at the very edge of its European range and is only found in the very southern areas of England. In these locations, they are found all year round in diverse landscapes that include small woodland, scrub, and farmland. Even if you find yourself in South Devon or Cornwall, you may not catch a glimpse of these elusive birds, but you may hear the rapid trill of the males.

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Estimated number of territories: 1,100

Listen to Cirl Bunting song:


Adult male Cirl buntings change plumage throughout the year. In the breeding season, they have yellow underparts with rusty-brown patches on the breast and a green upper breast and throat. They have chestnut brown upper parts and wings that are streaked with black. Most distinctively they have yellow and black facial stripes around their eyes. Outside of the breeding season, the males are duller, but the facial streaks can be more obvious. The females are slightly duller than the males but they have more streaking on the body and wings, but the facial streaks are not as distinctive.

Average Length: 15.5 - 16.5 cm

Average Lifespan: 2-3 Years

Average Wingspan: 22 - 25 cm

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Cirl bunting diet

In the summer cirl buntings are mainly insectivorous and feed on caterpillars, flies, beetles, and spiders. In the winter they switch their diet to consist of seeds, mainly from herbs and grasses.

How to feed cirl buntings: In winter cirl bunting rely on grass and herb seeds. Specific cirl bunting mixes can be bought for those that live near a population.

What to feed cirl buntings: Spread seeds on the ground or a bird table, as cirl bunting are unlikely to use a feeder.

Cirl Bunting breeding and nesting information

Cirl bunting begin their breeding season in April when they begin to build bulky cup-shaped nests near the ground in dense vegetation. 2-5 eggs are laid in the nest and incubated by the female for 13-14 days. Once hatched the chicks are fed by both parents for 11-12 days before they fledge. Cirl bunting are monogamous and may produce up to three broods with the same partner before the breeding season ends in September.

Threats to Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting are red-listed in the UK due to their small population and very limited range. Changing and intensifying farming practices in the 20th century reduced the mosaic of farmland and small woodlands which this bird requires and nearly lead to their extinction in the UK. This loss continues in many areas due to the removal or intense management of hedgerows which provide nesting areas for these birds. The reintroduction of schemes such as the Set-aside scheme will greatly help this species. The availability of its favourite invertebrate prey is further reduced by the extensive use of herbicides and insecticides on farmland.

How you can help

If you live near a population consider laying specific Cirl Bunting mix on the ground or your bird table.

Protect hedgerows that surround farmland to ensure safe nesting areas for these birds.

Avoid using garden chemicals that will reduce the food available.

Fascinating Fact

In the 19th century, our once healthy Cirl bunting population was used to introduce the species to New Zealand, but the population has not spread far since.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Emberiza cirlus. Downloaded from on 14/08/2023.

Bradbury, R. B., Bailey, C. M., Wright, D., & Evans, A. D. (2010). Bird Study Wintering Cirl Buntings Emberiza cirlus in southwest England select cereal stubbles that follow a low-input herbicide regime.

Brambilla, M., Guidali, F., & Negri, I. (2008). The importance of an agricultural mosaic for Cirl Buntings Emberiza cirlus in Italy. Ibis, 150(3), 628–632.

British trust for ornithology (no date) Cirl bunting | BTO - British trust for ornithology. Available at: (Accessed: 14 August 2023).  

Helden, A. J., McKenzie, R., Cobbold, G., Grice, P. V., Anderson, G. Q. A., & MacDonald, M. A. (2015). Field-based grassland management for cirl buntings (Emberiza cirlus L.) and its effect on plant- and leafhoppers (Hemiptera: Auchenorrhyncha). Insect Conservation and Diversity, 8(3), 272–281.

RSPB (no date e) Cirl Bunting Bird Facts: Emberiza Cirlus, The RSPB. Available at: (Accessed: 14 August 2023).  

Svensson., L (2020) Collins Bird Guide 2nd Edn, Willian Collins ,Great Britain. P. 398

Woodward,I., Aebischer, N., Burnell, D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D.A.& Noble, D. (2020). Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and theUnited Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.

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