CORN BUNTING (Emberiza calandra)


This large dumpy bunting inhabits both natural and agricultural grasslands and is often seen singing on fence posts near farmland. It has undergone significant population declines and is now locally extinct in many parts of the British Isles, including Wales and the island of Ireland. They will often fly with their legs dangling characteristically and the males can be heard singing a song that sounds like the jangling of keys.

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Alert Status:

Red - 17% decline ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 11,000 (updated 2016)

Listen to Corn Bunting song:


The Corn bunting are a rather nondescript streaky brown bunting about the size of a sparrow, making it larger than other buntings. It is often likened to a Skylark but with a thicker bill and no crest. Male and female Corn bunting looks the same, with the only difference being that the males are around 20% larger.  Both sexes have buff-brown streaked bodies, and are closely streaked all over, except for a white patch towards the bottom of the breast. The bill is thick, with a slight pinkish hue. Juveniles can be identified by a slightly more yellowish hue to their feathers.

Average Length: 16 - 18 cm

Average Lifespan: 3 Years

Average Wingspan: 26 - 32 cm

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Corn Bunting diet

Corn buntings eat mainly seeds and invertebrates that can be found near open grassland or farmland.

Corn Bunting breeding and nesting information

Corn Bunting begin breeding relatively late, and might not start until the end of May in UK populations. During this time the male is anything but monogamous and may mate with up to 18 females during the breeding season. The female alone builds the nest on the ground among dense vegetation, in which she will lay 4-6 eggs and incubate them by herself for 12 days. Once hatched the female feeds the chicks, with the male hanging around to defend the territory. After around 10-13 days the chicks will leave the nest before they can fly, and so require further care from their parents until they can. Even though they start breeding late, Corn bunting can have up to 3 broods in a single breeding season.

Threats to Corn Buntings

The Corn Bunting has undergone drastic declines in the UK since 1967, and while the population has stabilised recently, it shows no signs of recovery. As with other buntings, the main driver of their decline is the intensification of agriculture. This has led to the loss of suitable nesting sites through the removal or intense management of hedgerows. As they nest late in the season their nests are often destroyed during harvesting. The reduction in spring tillage and the increased application of pesticides have greatly reduced the available insect prey during the early breeding season. To help the corn Bunting the reintroduction of schemes such as the Set-aside scheme and the reduction in pesticide use are vital. These targeted conservation strategies must be implemented and have been successful in Scotland.

How you can help

Provide food such as cereals and seeds throughout winter on 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

Corn Buntings are home birds and don’t move far from where there were born. In fact, birds that are just 30km away from each other have been found to sing with a different dialect!
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Emberiza calandra. Downloaded from on 14/08/2023.

Brickle, N. W., Harper, D. G. C., Aebischer, N. J., & Cockayne, S. H. (2000). Effects of agricultural intensification on the breeding success of corn buntings Miliaria calandra. Journal of Applied Ecology, 37(5), 742–755.

British Trust for Ornithology (2023a) Corn bunting, BTO. Available at: (Accessed: 14 August 2023).  

De Montaigu, C. T., & Goulson, D. (2020). Identifying agricultural pesticides that may pose a risk for birds. PeerJ, 8.

Garland, E. C., & McGregor, P. K. (2020). Cultural Transmission, Evolution, and Revolution in Vocal Displays: Insights From Bird and Whale Song. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 544929.

Perkins, A. J., Maggs, H. E., Wilson, J. D., Watson, A., & Smout, C. (2008). Targeted management intervention reduces rate of population decline of Corn Buntings Emberiza calandra in eastern Scotland. Bird Study, 55(1), 52–58.

Taylor, A. J., & O’halloran, J. (2002). The Decline of the Corn Bunting, Miliaria calandra, in the Republic of Ireland. 102(3), 165–175.

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