REED BUNTING (Emberiza schoeniclus)


About the same size as a sparrow, this streaky brown bird is most often seen in reedbeds, wetlands, and farmland. They are found throughout the UK and are only absent from the highest upland areas. The males can be heard singing their simple song from high perches in these habitats. In the winter they can be seen in large feeding flocks of buntings and sparrows. Their population success is mixed with an overall increase being seen in UK populations, however, populations in south-east England continue to undergo significant declines.

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Alert Status:

Amber 28% increase

Estimated number of territories: 275,000

Listen to reed bunting song:


These birds are about the size of sparrows but slimmer with a clearly forked tail. The males have streaky brown and black upper parts and wings, dark brown tails with white edges, a white nape, a black head, and a white moustache. Outside of the breeding season, the males' head colours become less obvious as new grey feathers come through. Breeding females look similar to males but are a paler colour and have a streaky brown head rather than black.

Average Length: 15-16.5 cm

Average Lifespan: 3 Years

Average Wingspan: 21 - 28 cm

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Reed Bunting diet

Their diet mainly consists of seeds and insects. They have been known to visit bird feeders and bird tables so any bird seed mix or mealworms will attract them.

Reed bunting breeding and nesting information

Reed bunting begins breeding in April, the female builds a cup-shaped nest out of grass, twigs, and mosses lined with softer material at the base of dense shrubs. 4-5 eggs are laid and incubated by the female for 12-15 days before hatching. They are then fed by both parents for a further 12-15 days and leave the nest before they can fly so require further care from the parents. The reed bunting breeding season lasts until August and they are speedy breeders and can sometimes produce 3 broods in one season. Male Reed buntings commonly mate with more than one female each season.

Threats to reed bunting

Previous declines have been attributed to changes in agricultural practices which significantly reduced food availability during the winter months. The reduction in spring tillage and the increased application of pesticides have greatly reduced the available insect prey during the early breeding season. The loss and fragmentation of wetland habitats have been shown to decrease suitable nesting sites and increase the risk of nest predation due to a decrease in dense coverage. 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.

Avoid using garden chemicals that will reduce the food available and petition your local council to do the same.

Petition your local area to protect wetland and reedbed habitats and improve nesting sites for this bird.

Fascinating Fact

Reed buntings are susceptible to nest predation and so to distract would-be predators, one of the adults may pretend to be injured to draw the predator away from the nest.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Emberiza schoeniclus. Downloaded from Accessed: 19/09/2023.

Bouwman, K. M., Lessells, C. M., & Komdeur, J. (2005). Male reed buntings do not adjust parental effort in relation to extrapair paternity. Behavioral Ecology, 16(3), 499–506.

Brickle, N. W., & Peach, W. J. (2004). The breeding ecology of Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus in farmland and wetland habitats in lowland England. Ibis, 146(SUPPL. 2), 69–77.

British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Reed Bunting | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Available at: Accessed: 19/09/2023.

Orłowski, G., & Czarnecka, J. (2007). Winter diet of reed bunting Emberiza schoeniclus in fallow and stubble fields. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 118(1–4), 244–248.

Pasinelli, G., & Schiegg, K. (2006). Fragmentation within and between wetland reserves: The importance of spatial scales for nest predation in reed buntings. Ecography, 29(5), 721–732.

RSPB (2023) Reed Bunting Bird Facts: Emberiza Schoeniclus, The RSPB. Available at: Accessed: 19/09/2023.

Surmacki, A. (2004). Habitat use by Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus in an intensively used farmland in Western Poland. Ornis fennica. 81:137-143.

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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