Corn bunting

Corn bunting – Emberiza calandra


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Emberizidae
  • Genre: Emberiza
  • Species: Emberiza calandra  

Identification characters

It is a large-sized corn bunting with a body length of 16-19 cm. It weighs 32-67 g.

The Corn bunting bird is not sexually dimorphic. The body is massive, the head often appears larger and the bill is thick. The plumage is lark-like, with dark, grey-brownish stripes dorsally and yellowish-white ventrally, with stripes on the sides of the throat, breast and flanks. The scientific name of the species, calandra, comes from the Greek word kalandra/kalandros, which refers to a species of skylark, referring to the southern meadowlark’s resemblance to the lark.

The tail is devoid of white. The sides of the head show no obvious pattern, with blackish streaks on a yellowish-white background, with dark streaks on the sides of the cheeks and lower cheek border, and a dark spot on the back of the ear feathers. On the breast there are streaks which may merge to form an irregular, dark pattern. The legs and sides of the beak are yellowish-pink. On short distances, the flight is heavy, with legs hanging down, but it can also perform long flights with large undulations.

The male can be seen in high places, singing in an upright posture, with its head tilted back and beak wide open. The song is characteristic. A short, repeated stanza begins more hesitantly and ends with an accelerated rattle.


The range of the species is mainly southern and central Europe, northern Africa and Asia as far as Kazakhstan, where it is the eastern limit of the species. For most of its range it is a sedentary species, but populations in cold areas may migrate south.

The European population is between 18 300 000 and 31 300 000 breeding pairs, representing 20% of the global population. Between 1980 and 2013, the population experienced a moderate decline.

In Romania, the species has a very wide distribution, being present in open habitats in all regions except mountainous areas. The breeding population in Romania ranges from 4 047 595 to 4 790 635 pairs, with an increasing trend.

Living environment and biology of the species

The corn bunting bird prefers open fields, interspersed with bushes or trees, and is found mainly on agricultural land, especially pastures and cereal fields. When winter arrives, individuals of the species gather in flocks, often together with the yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella).

Longevity in the wild is about 10 years.

About 75% of their diet is plant-based, consisting of seeds, grains, leaves or berries, supplemented by small invertebrates such as various insects, spiders and snails. The chicks are fed almost exclusively on insects.

Males begin to sing in March-April, settled in high places such as trees, bushes, tall trees, telephone or power lines. During the breeding season it defends its territory. Males can be polygynous and mate with up to three females, and some males may be left without a mate. The male does not play a major role in rearing the young and only feeds them after they are older. The nest, built by the female from dry grass, stems and thin roots, is lined with mammal hairs or fine grass hairs and is camouflaged on the ground among the grasses. The female lays 3-5 reddish-brown eggs with fine vermicules and hatches them for 12-14 days. The chicks are fed for the first 4 days after hatching by the female only, then by the father. The chicks leave the nest 9-12 days after hatching and, still unable to fly, hide in nearby bushes and are fed by the parents until they fly and become completely independent. In years with favourable climatic conditions and sufficient food, the female may lay her second clutch.

Threats and conservation measures

The main threats to the species are related to habitat alteration and loss caused by land use change through agricultural intensification, habitat uniformity through the amalgamation of plots and the elimination of natural areas between them, widespread use of pesticides and contamination by agricultural products, plus mortality and other effects caused by predators, and last but not least, the effect of various anthropogenic activities.

A complex of measures is needed to conserve the populations of the brown pressurised duck, consisting of: Prohibition of afforestation of steppe regions, maintenance and development of a mosaic landscape in the dry regions of cultivated grassland areas, taking into account the species’ preference for open fields, maintenance and enhancement of corridors between areas of spontaneous grassland including scattered trees, tree lines and groups of non-productive trees, conservation, creation and promotion of uncultivated land with vegetation suitable for the species, maintaining grassland and prohibiting the burning of grassland, proper maintenance of grassland, reduction of chemicals used in agriculture, application of less toxic and persistent chemicals, regularisation of herbicide use periods according to the phenology of the species, adjustment of the agricultural calendar to the biology of the species, avoidance of industrial and urban sprawl, control of domestic and feral cat and dog populations.

It is desirable to inventory current and potential breeding areas, to identify nesting, migration, feeding and aggregation areas important for the conservation of the species, and to promote studies addressing various aspects of the biology of the species, including demographic parameters.


        • Fântână Ciprian, Kovács Istvan, Benkő Zoltán, Daròczi Szilárd, Domșa Cristian, Veres-Szászka Judit (editors), 2022, Atlas of bird species of community interest in Romania, 2nd edition – Love birds, save nature!, Project financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the Large Infrastructure Operational Programme 2014-2020, Ministry of Environment, Water and Forests- Biodiversity Directorate, scientific coordination Romanian Ornithological Society and Association for the Protection of Birds and Nature Milvus Group, produced by EXCLUS PROD SRL, p. 568-569;
        • Lars Svensson, Hakan Delin, 1988, Photographic guide to the birds of Britain and Europe, Passerines p. 274 , Chancellor Press, London
        • Svensson (text and maps), 2017, Guide to bird identification. Europe and the Mediterranean area, translation and adaptation into Romanian: Romanian Ornithological Society, Emanuel Ștefan Baltag, Sebastian Bugariu, Alida Barbu, p. 398 ;
        • Ornitodata | Presura sură (
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