Image: Andy Hay
Cirl buntings are sparrow-sized buntings related to yellowhammers. Both sexes have olive-green rumps (contrasting with the chestnut rump of the yellowhammer). They can be elusive but males can be located when they sing - a brief, rapid, rattling trill.
Cirl buntings pair up during the spring and summer when they will raise two to three broods between April and September. They occur in small flocks during winter, sometimes with other seed-eating buntings and finches.
Once a common bird of farmland in southern England, cirl buntings were almost lost from the UK in the 20th century. However, positive land management by farmers has helped increase the population from 118 pairs in 1989 to almost 700 pairs in 2003.
Cirl buntings remain confined almost entirely to south Devon where they are found in areas of traditional farming with a mix of small arable and grassland fields.
Food - lots of seeds and invertebrates
Cirl buntings need seeds in winter. Good sources are spilt cereal, the seeds of broad-leaved weeds from winter stubbles, as well as seeds from set-aside and weedy field margins.
In spring and summer cirl buntings need invertebrates – grasshoppers are especially important food for chicks. Good feeding areas are semi-improved/unimproved grassland, and rough grass field margins.
Safe nest sites - thick hedges and scrub
Hedges should be thick and between two and four metres tall. Cirl buntings’ favoured nesting sites are hedges that include blackthorn, hawthorn and other native species, and patches of dense scrub (gorse and bramble).
Land management changes that caused the decline of the cirl bunting are linked to loss of seed and insect food sources throughout the year. All the measures described on the Helping cirl buntings page will encourage these birds and will also provide important habitats for other farmland wildlife. Many of these management options can be funded through agri-environment schemes.
Retain a mixed farm holding of pasture and arable fields with plenty of hedges and scrub. Cirl buntings need their insect and seed food sources, and nest sites, in a small area. They usually forage within 250m of their nest and in winter rarely travel more than 2km to find stubbles.
Hedge and scrub management
Last updated: 26 November 2008
What cirl buntings need and how they can be encouraged to your farmland.