Corn Bunting Bird (Emberiza calandra)

corn bunting bird

The corn bunting bird, Emberiza calandra, is a typical bunting, a passerine bird in the family Emberizidae, that breeds across northern and central Europe and Asia, and is strongly migratory over most of its range, wintering in southern Africa and southeast Asia as far south as northern Australia.

It is fairly sedentary in Britain and Ireland where it has increased in numbers in recent years to become one of the commonest breeding songbirds over much of the lowland areas of the country. It has also been introduced into New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay.

Corn bunting identification

corn bunting bird

The corn bunting bird is a small, seed-eating, migratory sparrow that can usually be found in Europe and Asia. Corn buntings can often be confused with other similar birds such as the American golden sparrow or Siberian stonechat due to their close resemblance to each other in size and appearance.

They are brown with lighter streaks of coloring on their wings and back and have long, sturdy legs. Their tail feathers are quite short and they have two very conspicuous black bars at the end of their wings. In general, males tend to be brighter than females in coloration but this does not always hold true for all populations.

Scientific name

The scientific name of the corn bunting bird is Emberiza calandra

Corn bunting habitat

The corn bunting is many times seen roosted unmistakably on a fence, post, or wire, singing its clanking song. In the mid-year, corn buntings favor open farmland and in winter they might be found in stubbles, weedy fields, root crops, and stockyards.

Size and weight

The Corn Bunting bird is a small passerine and weighs around 35 to 56 g (1.2 to 2 oz). Its average length is 17 to 19 cm (6.7 to 7.5 inches), with a wingspan of 26 to 32 cm (10 to 12.6 inches).

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Feathers and plumage

corn bunting bird

The male corn bunting bird is a typical-looking bird with brown wings and back feathers. They also have a light belly and white on their chest, making it look like they are wearing white gloves. The females are not as showy, with lighter colors of brown, grey, and some white around the neck. This bird has black-tipped wings that help them to catch insects in flight or wade into grasses.

Molting

After weeks of constant grooming, a corn bunting bird will complete the molt by shedding its old feathers. Feathers are water-repellent and the old ones will be replaced with shiny new feathers.

The process is painful, as every feather follicle must be relocated in order to grow a new feather at a different angle. The bird can lose up to one-third of its body weight during this time, but it regains all that weight within a few days.

Molting can take from one day to three months depending on the species and sex of the bird. Immature birds need more time than adults because they have immature plumage or no feathers at all. Birds do not eat much while they are molting because they need all their energy for the intense activity of molting. Some birds also have periods when they don’t sing or call, which may last for a few hours or even a couple of days.

Nesting behavior

The corn bunting’s nest is made of grass, moss, wool, and weed stalks lined with down. It may be built on the ground or in a tree, bush, hedge, building crevice, or even man-made structures such as holes in buildings and sheds.

Diet and foraging

Corn Buntings consume plant seeds, including those from weeds and grasses, cereals, and sycamore seeds.

At the nesting stage, they mainly eat insects, caterpillars, spiders, slugs, snails, and earthworms. They forage for food on the ground by hopping.

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Corn bunting song and vocal behavior

A distinctive feature of this bird’s call is a staccato ‘kwit, kwit’ while the song itself is metallic, repetitive and ‘ti-ti-ti-tchee-chirrichirrichirri’, often sung from a fence post, cable, or branch.

Breeding

corn bunting bird

Females build their nests directly on the ground out of grasses, roots, and fine grasses, depending on their geographical location, from late March through June. Incubation by the female alone can last up to two weeks. One or two broods are produced each year and are comprised of four to six very pale blue, speckled eggs.

Within ten to thirteen days after hatching, the chicks regularly leave the nest before they are able to fly. While not common, breeding males have been documented mating with up to 18 different females in one season, although this is not common.

Lifespan

The lifespan of the corn bunting bird is about 2 years in their wild habitat, however, the average lifespan in captivity is more likely to be up to 3 years.

Movements and migration

The corn bunting bird is a migratory passerine, moving short distances to the milder southern climates during winter. With their high metabolic rate, they need a lot of food which they may not be able to find in one location so they also migrate northwards as spring approaches.

Once they’ve migrated back north, they will again return south when the weather becomes too cold and food becomes scarce. Corn buntings will continue this cycle until it decides to stay at its northern or southern end for the whole year.

Diseases and threats

Although corn bunting is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, it is vulnerable to a number of diseases and external threats. One of the most common diseases to infect the bird is Avian malaria. On top of that, it has been found that both Ozone depletion and increased ultraviolet radiation lead to greater mortality for this species of bird in areas close to large cities such as London.

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Conservation and management

The corn bunting bird is a grassland specialist. Management and conservation of their habitat are important to the health of the species. Habitat management should focus on maintaining short and open habitats with minimal shading in order to encourage food, nesting, and hiding opportunities for corn buntings.

Managing grazing or fire also has a large impact on this species. Areas that are overgrazed will have less ground cover than areas that are not overgrazed.

Corn buntings can also use burned areas as nest sites as long as they are not maintained by fires year after year. If fire control is necessary, burning should be carried out during late fall or winter when corn buntings are least vulnerable to predators.