Fascinating facts

The Yellowhammer

Yellowhammers are birds of open countryside, most often found in agricultural and wooded areas. They are present across much of Britain, making them one of the most familiar farmland species. This bird is typically associated with hedgerows, where suitable song posts are available. Yellowhammers are much less common on high ground.

The Yellowhammer is a member of the Bunting family and is one of the brightest coloured of our native birds. Yellowhammers are polymorphic, this means they have several different plumages, with the male having the most colourful in the breeding season.

Male Yellowhammers feature bright yellow colouring on their heads, which can also cover most of the body. The birds' underparts have a dark-streaked red-brown coloured 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.

Female Yellowhammers will begin to build their nests in early April. Nests are usually placed low on the ground, among hedgerows or woodland fringes 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. Small clutches of eggs, typically three to four, will be laid between mid-April and July.

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.

nest

The beautiful Yellowhammer sings his song in the heat of the summer afternoon, a cheerful repetitive song that is easy to learn and one that will help you to easily identify the Yellowhammer. The song will attract your attention, it's made up of short, quick repetitive notes, that sound like the bird is saying "a little bit of bread and no Cheese". He will usually sing from an exposed perch, such as a fence post or wire, or a bush top or open branch.

The Yellowhammer’s song has apparently been an influential factor in Beethoven’s writing of the powerful four-note opening motif in his incredible 5th Symphony (as everyone knows: short-short-short-long). Accordingly, the Yellowhammer “theme” was used in two piano concertos, No. 21 in C major and No. 23 in F minor.

In winter numbers increase as migrants come to the UK from Continental Europe to escape their cold winters, migrants start to arrive in October to winter in our more temperate climate.

Females choose a mating partner based on his songs. Males with the biggest repertoire of songs have the greatest chances to find a mating partner.

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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