YELLOWHAMMER (Emberiza citrinella)

FAMILY: EMBERIZIDAE (Old world buntings)

Yellowhammers are birds of the open countryside, most often found in farmland and wooded areas. They are present across much of Britain and are typically associated with hedgerows, where suitable song posts are available. They can often be heard, singing their characteristic ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’ song perched on a post on a summer’s day.

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Alert Status:

Red - 27% decline ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

700,000 (updated 2016)

Listen to Yellowhammer song:


Yellowhammers are polymorphic, which means they have different plumages, with the male having the most colourful in the breeding season. Males feature bright yellow colouring on their heads, with small dark streaks. The birds' underparts have a dark-streaked red-brown colouration amongst their characteristic bright yellow and is another feature well worth looking out for.

During the winter months, the plumage is more subdued, but the yellow can still be seen on the head, under the bill and below the cheeks. Females and young, however, are duller in colour and are somewhat brown-looking birds often with only a hint of yellow.  

Average Length: 16 cm

Average Lifespan: 2-3 Years

Average Wingspan: 23-29cm

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Yellowhammer diet

Their diet mostly consists of insects and invertebrates. In winter, seeds attract large numbers of yellowhammers, where they feed in flocks.

How to feed: Hanging feeders, ground feeders
What to feed: Sunflower hearts, raisins, corn, and seeds

Yellowhammer breeding and nesting information

Female Yellowhammers will begin to build their nests in early April, with nests built low on the ground, among hedgerows or woodland fringes. The nest are cup-shaped and contain a mixture of different building materials, such as plant matter, dry grass, stalks, and leaves. The lining is typically comprised of fine grass and animal hair. In April-May, the first clutches are laid, comprising 3-4 eggs, and will be the first of 2-3 broods. These beautiful smooth glossy eggs can vary in colour from light blue to a reddish-brown. The surface is covered by a fine, ink-like squiggle, earning this bird another traditional name: the “scribble Lark”. The incubation period lasts around thirteen days, after which they can take up to sixteen days to fully fledge.

Threats to yellowhammers

The loss of hedgerows in agricultural landscapes has been a large contributor to the decline of this species, and a reduction in insect prey for feeding chicks. Pesticide use is thought to be responsible for much of this insect decline.

How you can help

Put out seeds on your feeders to keep them fed!

Plant hedgerows in your garden if you can, and leave your grass and flowers long to encourage insects and yellowhammers

Leave the pesticides alone when tending your garden, it stops all those delicious insects that our birds eat!

Fascinating Fact

John Clare was inspired to write his poem, the yellowhammers nest, that details a world of beauty, and destruction that exists all at once. The environment that the yellowhammer lives in is fantastical and full of wonder and hope but lurking in the shadows is danger and peril. An excerpt is:  “Five eggs, pen-scribbled o'er with ink their shells, Resembling writing scrawls which fancy reads As nature’s poesy and pastoral spells — They are the yellowhammer’s, and she dwells Most poet-like where brooks and flowery weeds As sweet as Castaly to fancy seems And that old molehill like as Parnass’ hill On which her partner haply sits and dreams O'er all her joys of song—so leave it still A happy home of sunshine, flowers and streams.” – The Yellowhammer’s Nest by John Clare.
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BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Passer domesticus. Downloaded from on 29/03/2022. 

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Stanbury, A.J., Eaton, M.A., Aebischer, N.J., Balmer, D., Brown, A.F., Douse, A., Lindley, P., McCulloch, N., Noble, D.G., Win, I. (2021) The status of our bird populations: the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britain. British Birds. 114

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