Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella


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

Identification characters

Yellowhammer can be seen on tall trees or in bushes. Body length is 15-17 cm.

The mantle, back are olive-brown with black streaks. The beak is small, with light bluish-grey mandible. The tail is long, with much white on the sides.

Yellow elements are present in all plumage. The scientific name of the species comes from the Latin word citrus – lemon, referring to the yellow colour of the plumage.

In summer, the male has a yellowish head with black lines on the crown and margins. Ventrally, the plumage is yellowish-brown, with much greenish-brown and reddish-brown on the breast and with reddish-brown streaked flanks. Dorsally the plumage is yellowish-red with black streaks and reddish streaks. In autumn, the male can be recognised by the intense yellow on the head and ventral sides, and the olive-green and reddish-brown on the breast.

The female has much more muted shades than the male. In summer, the female has the greenish-grey, streaked crest, sometimes with a yellow spot. The sides of the head are greenish-grey, lacking yellow tones. Ventrally, her plumage is light yellowish with greyish-black streaks on the breast and flanks. In the first winter, the female is almost completely brownish-brown, streaked on the head and yellowish-white ventrally, with only a faint tinge of yellow.

The song of the yellowhammer  has inspired various artists over the years. It seems that Beethoven, when composing his Fifth Symphony, was inspired by the song of this species.


The yellowhammer is widespread throughout Europe, excluding the Iberian Peninsula, but also in East and Central Asia. In winter, some populations migrate to southern Europe, Turkey and around the Caspian Sea.

The population in Europe accounts for 60% of the world’s area and ranges from 12 080 000 to 19 900 000 breeding pairs.

In Romania, the yellowhammer is widespread throughout the country, with between 909 628 and 1 252 441 breeding pairs.

Living environment and biology of the species

For nesting choose sparse woodland habitats, cultivated shrubland, woodland meadows, roadside trees, parks and orchards and larger gardens. It is a predominantly sedentary species, but there are also migratory individuals. In the warm season it prefers wooded upland and hill areas, where it also nests. In winter it descends to the lowlands, where northern birds also occur. Maximum longevity is 13 years.

Food is mainly obtained from the ground. Mature individuals eat cereals and various seeds, preferring more often clover and clover. The young are fed mainly on animal food, consisting of insects, snails, earthworms and other invertebrates.

Breeding takes place in May-June, sometimes as early as April. The female builds the nest on or near the ground from various sticks and dry grasses and lines it with moss, hair and twigs. A pair has two oviposition per summer, rarely three. The female lays 4-5 eggs at a time, one day apart. The eggs are white with a bluish, greyish or purple tinge, decorated with spots or dashes of greyish-purple or reddish-purple. The female broods for 11-14 days, during which time the male defends the territory. The young are nestlings, with long, thick, greyish down, pink throat and yellowish caul. They do not open their eyes until 5 days after hatching and remain dependent on their parents who feed them intensively until 9-14 days old. Only 16 days after hatching, the chicks are able to fly.

Threats and conservation measures

Yellowhammer populations are threatened by habitat change, fragmentation and loss, poor forest management, heavy pesticide use, removal of uncultivated strips between arable land.

It is recommended, for conservation purposes, to prohibit new urban development, including scattered settlements in forest habitats important for breeding, feeding and resting of the species, to correlate forestry work with the biology of the species to avoid disturbance, especially during the breeding season, to maintain the undergrowth in logged forests, maintaining and emphasising corridors between areas of spontaneous grassland including scattered trees, lines of trees and groups of non-productive trees, preserving, creating and promoting uncultivated land with vegetation appropriate to the species, maintaining stubble and prohibiting its burning.

In agriculture and forestry the aim is to reduce the use of insecticides and herbicides, and in the absence of alternatives, the use of substances with minimal toxicity and persistence should be justified and applied on the species’ breeding grounds only outside the breeding season.

It is desirable to re-inventory current and potential breeding areas, to identify areas of importance for the conservation of the species and to promote studies on various aspects of the biology of the species, including studies on 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. 570-571;
      • Lars Svensson, Hakan Delin, 1988, Photographic guide to the birds of Britain and Europe, Passerines p. 280 , Chancellor Press, London
      • Svensson (text and maps), 2017, Guide to bird identification. Europe and the Mediterranean area, translation and adaptation in Romanian: Romanian Ornithological Society, Emanuel Ștefan Baltag, Sebastian Bugariu, Alida Barbu, p. 398;
      • Ornitodata | Presură galbenă (
Follow Us