ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Reed Bunting {Birds of Europe}

Updated on August 1, 2015

Reed bunting-Emberiza scoeniclus



Another article in the series European birds. Here we review the lifestyle, breeding and distribution of the Reed bunting with historical facts by ornithologists of days gone by.

The Reed bunting belongs to the Order of birds known as the Passerifomes {perching birds} and the Family Emberizidae from the German embritz indicating a bunting. It is given the specific name of schoeniclus from the Greek schoiniklos meaning a reed + colere meaning to dwell. As always an apt place to commence this review is by detailing the description of our subject.

Description of the Reed bunting.

The male bird in summer has the head and throat deep black, a white collar passes around the back of the neck and joins the white of the breast, another broad white stripe extends from the base of the lower mandible and joins the white collar.

The general colour of the rest of the upper parts is bright chestnut, shading into bluish grey on the rump and upper tail coverts, each feather with a brownish-black center. The wings are blackish brown, margined with a light red tint. the center tail feathers are similar in colour to the back, the rest are brownish black with narrow reddish coloured margins, except for the two outer webs of the two outer most feathers on each side, which are obliquely marked with white.

The general colour of the underparts is white striped with dull brown on the flanks and tinged with grey on the breast

The bill is brownish black above, paler below. The legs, toes and claws are brown. The irides are hazel.The female differs considerably from the male and has no black on the head or throat. The head and ear coverts are dark brown, each feather margined with a reddish brown. They have a pale buff stripe above the eye. The back wings and tail are similar to the male. The throat is dull white, the lower throat, breast and flanks are striped brown, a broad brownish black line passes from the bill down each side of the throat.

Outside the breeding season the male has much less black on the throat, and the stripes on the flanks are much more distinct and the breast is also striped. In all stages of plumage the male may be distinguished from the female by the concealed black bases to the feathers of the head and throat and white collar. The adult male in winter is not nearly so handsome or as noticeable as he is in summer. The black on his head and throat is almost entirely hidden by broad reddish margins to the feathers, the white parts are tinged with buff, and the dark parts of the plumage are almost hidden by light markings. These margins abrade or drop off as the spring approaches, leaving the bird in full and splended breeding plumage

In comparison to its body size the wings are medium short, the tail medium long, the neck short, bill short as are the legs.

the male reed bunting can be told from all other British and European buntings by his black head and throat and the white moustachial line. The female reed bunting very closely resembles the Lapland bunting, but can be distinguished by its much shorter hind claw, the much darker tips of the wing coverts and the much purr white on the outside of the tail feathers. She may also be mistaken for the female Rustic bunting and the female little bunting.

Pair of reed buntings

Courtesy of the BHL
Courtesy of the BHL

Japanese reed bunting


Historical facts about the reed bunting

The reed bunting is one of the most widely distributed buntings in the UK. However, as is the case with many other species their has been a decline in population numbers over the last forty years or so and because the estimated losses are between 25 and 50% they have been placed on the Amber list of Conservation concern.

On mainland Europe they are classed as a bird of least concern as far as conservation issues are concerned. The estimated population here is between 4,800.000 and 8,800.000 breeding pairs. Europe forms 25-49% of the global population.

It is related to the American sparrows. They occur but do not breed in Croatia, however they do breed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, main land China, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Georgia, Japan, Russia and Asia. It breeds throughout England and Wales and in Scotland and most of the adjacent islands. In Ireland it was very common where it is classed as a resident.

According to Dresser !871, stated that in one of its three forms { sub species} it was found throughout the Palaeartic Region, with the exception of Palestine and the Tundras of the north beyond the lands of the forest zone. It is generally a resident, but in most northern parts of its range is only a summer visitor, whilst in North Africa, Greece, Asia minor, Turkestan, China and the central and southern Islands of Japan it is only a winter visitor.

Having such a large range it is little wonder that there are variations in the local birds, particularly noticeable is the size of the bill. The smallest form breeds in eastern Siberia and winters in China. The typical form is found throughout Europe and West Siberia, but varieties are found in the valley of Yenesay { large river system flowing to the Arctic ocean}. Another form is found in Japan.

Other ornithologists such as Bree stated that they were found as far east as Japan. " I have received examples from Turkestan, collected by Dr.Severtzoth" Mr. Scully wrote " the species was common near Yarkand {western China} in winter and four specimens were preserved in January and February."

Messrs Blakiston and Pryer wrote " It is very common in the Yokohama {Japan} market, brought from Koshin in winter"

Reed bunting in its natural habitat


Lifestyle and habits

The haunts of this bird during the summer are near water. especially the reed inhabited banks where willow grows near sluggish rivers, canals and large or small marshy places. in the wilder country the banks of little streams ans swampy moorland. the reed bunting, although a local bird is one that frequents marshy places both i wild and cultivated districts and does not seem to have a preference whether the landscape is in the highlands or the low lying districts.

The birds are often encountered in pairs during the summer and they tend to remain within their territories for the duration until the young are fledged. The male bird very rarely fails to draw attention as he clings to some reed, or flies over the placid waters, perches on some overhanging spray whilst commencing with his simple little song. Sometimes he may be encountered sitting on old stone walls or rocks but is more frequently observed on a low bush. I have seen him sitting on telephone wires which stretched far over heather clad moorland and even in this lonely place he warbles his song.

While it is true the bunting song can be quite monotonous, but very often his homely voice is heard in places where sweeter music is absent as on the moors, which I find enhances such desolate areas. It consists of a double note repeated three or four times which concludes with a long drawn one which resembles, in my mind, the note of the corn bunting. The call note has been described as a harsh prolonged 'chee'. The reed bunting commences to sing at the beginning of April and continues until late summer. It is a lively bird, more so than the Yellowhammer {see my hub on the bird} and is almost as confiding.

Its flight is undulating as is the case with all the buntings, and it also possesses the habit of abruptly alighting, spreading out its tail, and, should it be about to perch on a reed, often fluttering its wings until firmly seated. As you wander along the banks of the water, the birds will flit from stem to stem or bush to bush as they accompany you for some distance, before returning to their original place by crossing the water.

The reed bunting is partly insectivorous and partly granivorous. In summer it feeds in the main, on insects and small freshwater shells, together with larvae of various sorts. It may often observed in the air chasing passing flies, which after capture will be taken to its favourite perch. During the winter various types of seeds are consumed, especially those of grasses, but grain will also be taken.

It is only in summer that the proximity of water is required. In winter it roams far from its summer haunts, often joining small flocks of finches as they search for food. When there is a dearth of food it may well be flushed from waste places where it keeps in the company of Larks and Corn buntings.

In the Migratory Report for 1892, flocks of these birds were encountered on the eastern coasts of Britain in September sometimes in association with Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats.

You tube courtesy of Edwin Bax

Breeding and young

The reed bunting pairs rather early in the year . nesting commences in late April or early May. The nest is rarely built at any height above the ground, although Jardine stated that he had frequently found it, in plantations bordering some marshy ground, on a young spruce as high as three yards above the ground..

Seebohm in his book The history of British birds 1885, writes " In the valley of Petchora {Komi Republic of Russia} I found a nest of this bird built inside an old Fieldfare's nest in an Alder swamp nine feet from the surface of the water"

The usual location is upon the ground beneath the shelter of a tuft, in a clump of rushes, or on a bank among rank vegetation. i have come upon a nest located between the stems of young willow close to the ground, and it is was more by accident , rather than actually looking for it. the nest is always well concealed, by surrounding grass, rushes or moss.

Hewitson says he has, although rarely, seen the nest at an elevation of two feet or more above the water and supported by a bunch of common reed. This bird, however, does not suspend its nest from reeds, as some of the past ornithologists believed.

the nest is made of various materials, in some areas with dry grass, moss and withered leaves of rushes form the outside, and fine grass and hairs finish off the interior. In swampy places it is almost exclusively constructed of bents and reed stems, the feathery tops of which form the lining.

The eggs from four to six in number vary in ground colour from greyish olive to purple buff, spotted and streaked and blotched with rich purplish brown almost black. Many of the streaks are are underlying and pale violet grey in colour and most of the surface spots are more or less blurred at the edges. They are not subject to great variation and not easily confused with any other eggs of British buntings.

The eggs are incubated by the female for 13 days or so. The young are born helpless and naked with the exception of a sparse downy covering. The reed bunting in many cases raise two broods per season. It should be noted that over 50% of reed bunting chicks are not fathered by the pair male, but are a result of an adulterous liaison, the highest record of any British bird. {source the BTO }

The male bird, while the female is at the nest takes up his perch close at hand and there, incessantly warbles his simple refrains. Both parents feed the young which fledge after about 12-14 days.

The name for the bird in Welsh is Bras y Cyrs and in Irish Gealog Ghiolcai

Eggs of the reed bunting


Reed Bunting

Familiar Wild birds {1883} Courtesy of the BHL
Familiar Wild birds {1883} Courtesy of the BHL


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Eddy, I am glad you enjoyed another bird hub, I know you are a lover of nature. thank you for your kind comments and vote up. Best wishes to you.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Another great hub ;you are a great teacher and we are never too old to learn are we. Voting up and wishing you a wonderful weekend.


    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, it is my pleasure. I am pleased to introduce you to the birds that you are not familiar with, to return the favor of the many species you have introduced to me from your part of the world. Best wishes.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are beautiful little birds. Thanks for the wonderful introduction to them.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Devika, Thank you for leaving your welcomed comments and for visiting my hubs so regularly, it is really appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      So interesting we have so many kinds of birds at the moment around our property and it is such a wonderful sight also to listening to birds is a pleasure but you are right the The Reed Bunting bird is not found in Croatia, great hub on birds in Europe. Voted up, useful, interesting and an informative hub indeed.