BUNTINGS Family Emberizidae
ABUNTING LOOKS MUCH like a finch: in general, buntings are a little slimmer and longer-tailed, and the structure of the bill is more constant, with a small upper mandible fittingneatly into a deeper, broader lower one that has a curiously curved cutting edge.
Most buntings have dark tails with white sides,but some, such as the Corn Bunting, have plainer tails. They show a variety of head patterns. Males are much like females in winter, with these patterns obscured by dull feather edges, but the dull colours crumble away in spring to reveal striking breeding plumage colours.
Females and juveniles, lacking these patterns, are more difficult to identify and some require care. Habitat, location, and time of year may be useful. Calls also help: several much rarer species visit western Europe in the autumn and look rather like Reed Buntings, but a hard, sharp “tik” call concentrates attention, as the Reed Bunting does not have any corresponding call note. Songs are mostly brief, not especially musical, and repetitive, although some, such as the Yellowhammer’s all-summer-long song phrase, have a particularly pleasing and evocative character.
Most buntings are seed-eaters outside the breeding season and have suffered declines in areas where intensive modern farming has reduced the opportunities for birds to find weed seeds in winter.
The Cirl Bunting has also declined with a lack of grasshoppers,which it feeds to its young in summer.