The species is similar to a Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) but slightly smaller (1). Males have a black throat and eye-stripe, and a band going across the breast that is olive-green (1). Females tend to be a paler shade of yellow, similar to cream-coloured, across the stomach area (2). The rump tends to be grey, with some flecks of brown within it (2).
During the breeding season, individuals are thought to prefer a matrix landscape – in particular, one of small agricultural fields mixed with bushes and small trees (3). Populations can be found from the shoreline up to the tree line (3). The species tends to avoid either open spaces or closed canopy forests (1; 3). It tends to favour a mixture of hedges, gardens, juniper slopes and thorny scrub (2).
E. cirlus breeds over most of the area of mainland Greece, as well as on the islands of both the Aegean and Ionian Seas (3). Here, it is considered to be a resident species, rather than a migrant (3). In large areas of the Mediterranean Basin, this species replaces the Yellowhammer, which is never found in those same regions (2).
This species is non-migratory, unlike many species in the Emberiza genus (2). It exists in areas where winters are not severe – throughout southern Europe – and therefore can maintain a sedentary lifestyle throughout the year. The species moves to a lower altitudes within its range at the onset of winter (3). At that time, many individuals move to coastal areas, to escape the coldest months of the year in the highlands (3).
In the summer, E. cirlus bases its diet on invertebrates, mainly grasshoppers and crickets (4). During the winter months, this changes; small seeds become preferable, and often the species will eat the overspill from farm sites. Will often combine into flocks in suitable areas surrounding arable lands to take advantage of these seeds (2).
Within Europe, the species is identified as one of Least Concern (5). In the northern part of its range, particularly within the United Kingdom, the species is recognised as experiencing a population decline (1; 2; 5). In Greece, the breeding population is believed to consist of upwards of fifty thousand pairs, although the total could bas as high as two-hundred thousand pairs (3). The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) has classified E. cirlus as ‘Least Concern,’ however the population is understood to be declining (6).
Description written by M. James Rowen (2013)
(1) Mullarney K., Svensson L., Zetterstrom D., Grant P. J., 1999, Collins Bird Guide: A complete guide to the birds of Britain and Europe, Harper Collins Publishers: London, U. K.
(2) Jonsson L., 2003, Birds of Europe, Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd.: London, U. K.
(3) Handrinos G., Akriotis T., 1997, The Birds of Greece, Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd.: London, U. K.
(4) RSPB, 2010, Farming for Birds: Cirl Bunting, RSPB Advisory sheets no. 00437, [Online] Available at: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/cirlbunting_tcm9-148726.pdf. Accessed 23rd August at 3:50 pm
(5) British Trust for Ornithology, 2013, Cirl Bunting, Emberiza cirlus, [Online] Available at: http://blx1.bto.org/birdfacts/results/bob18580.htm. Accessed 22nd August 2013 at 12:30 pm.
(6) Birdlife International, 2012, Emberiza cirlus, in: IUCN 2013, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Version 2013. 1 [Online] Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/106008933/0. Accessed 23rd August 2013 at 3:32 pm.