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Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) | by Brian Carruthers-Dublin-Eire
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Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

spanwidth min.: 23 cm

spanwidth max.: 29 cm

size min.: 16 cm

size max.: 17 cm


incubation min.: 12 days

incubation max.: 14 days

fledging min.: 11 days

fledging max.: 13 days

broods 2

eggs min.: 2

eggs max.: 5


Emberiza citrinella




Status: Declining resident mainly in the east and south of Ireland. Strongly tied to cereal cultivation.


Conservation Concern: Red-listed in Ireland due to a decline in the breeding range and population. The European population has been evaluated as Secure.


Identification: A typical bunting in size and shape (slightly larger than Chaffinch).


Adult summer males are a stunning yellow colour on the head and underparts, appearing unlike any other Irish breeding bird species. Has an indistinct reddish-brown breast band and some faint black streaking along the flanks. The back and wings are brown with extensive black streaking. The rump is reddish-brown.


Adult winter male Yellowhammers are much darker, with extensive black markings on the head and obvious black streaking on the breast. The head and underparts have an obvious yellow tint to them.


Adult females resemble winter males, but have much less yellow on the head and underparts.


Juveniles have a dark grey-brown head with an obvious white eyering.


Similar Species: Other Bunting species.


Call: Has several rather faint calls, which resemble those of Reed Bunting - "ziu", "plit", "pschiu". Males sing from an exposed perch in the top of a tree or hedgerow from spring to late summer. The song is a frequently repeated "sri-sri-sri-sri-sri-zu", initially increasing in pitch, before descending on the last note.


Diet: Feeds on grains of grasses and cereals. Young are fed insects.


Breeding: Formerly a widespread breeding species in Ireland, now restricted mainly to the east and south. Strongly linked with the cultivation of cereals and has declined in areas where these are no longer grown.


Wintering: Largely resident, though flocks may form in favoured feeding areas, such as winter stubble fields.


Where to See: Widespread along the east coast of Ireland. The fields between Balbriggan and Laytown in north County Dublin hold good numbers of Yellowhammers, especially in winter.



Bright yellow bird with reddish brown upperparts, streaked with darker brown; this distinguishes it from the cirl bunting which has a greenish rump; male has bright yellow head and underparts, the female is more heavily marked with brown streaks.




The yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella is a member of the bunting family and a characteristic res ident species of lowland arable and mixed farmland. It is most obvious in spring and summer when the male has a bright yellow head and breast and perches, singing, on the tops of tall bushes, trees and telegraph wires. The nest is close to ground level in dense grass, field margins, ditch vegetation, at the base of thick low hedgerows or in thick scrub.


Other details


Emberiza citrinella is a widespread breeder across much of Europe, which constitutes >50% of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is extremely large (>18,000,000 pairs), and was stable between 1970-1990. Although there were declines in Fennoscandia and western Europe during 1990-2000, most central and eastern European populations-including sizeable ones in Germany, Czech Republic, Poland and Ukraine-were stable (the Russian trend was unknown). The species probably declined only slightly overall




Yellowhammers feed on grain, weed seed and the seeds of large grasses in winter,foraging in cereals, cereal stubbles and crop margins. In spring and summer adults and chicks feed mainly on invertebrates.




This species has a large range, with an estimated global extent of occurrence of 10,000,000 km2. It has a large global population, including an estimated 35,000,000-62,000,000 individuals in Europe (BirdLife International in prep.). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e., declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from]




The yellowhammer builds its nest on or close to the ground in dense vegetation, often at the base of a thick hedge, bank or gorse bush. The nest is made of grasses, leaves, moss and straw and lined with fine grasses. Breeding starts in early April when the first clutch of three to four eggs is laid, and a pair can lay up to three broods each season. The eggs are covered with fine black scribbles. The young are fed on insect food such as caterpillars.




Sedentary to migratory, with most populations partial migrants; also dispersive. Vacates entirely only extreme north of range, and winters chiefly within breeding range, especially in milder years. European migrants head chiefly south-west, usually moving only short or medium distances (up to c. 500 km in northern Europe, and c. 250 km in central Europe), so birds wintering south of range in Mediterranean region are mostly from central or southern Europe. Ringing data show that individuals winter in widely differing areas in different years: e.g. bird ringed winter in northern France recovered in south-west France in later winter, one ringed eastern France was recovered in northern Italy, and 2 ringed Germany recovered in Spain. Hard weather movements occur midwinter. Autumn movement September-November(-December), peaking early October in northern Europe. In south of winter range, recorded chiefly December-February in Camargue (southern France) and Cyprus, November-February in Jordan and Israel. Spring movement February-May, mostly March-April. Reaches extreme north of Scandinavia late April to May.


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Taken on July 27, 2015