Found mainly across southern and western continental Europe and parts of north Africa, this attractive little bird can also be found on New Zealand’s South Island following a successful introduction in the late 19th century.
The breeding plumage of the adult male cirl bunting is striking. The crown of the head and the nape are greyish green with black streaks. The supercilium, which is the area from the base of the bill running above the eye to the rear of the bird’s head, is yellow. This wide yellow band is bisected by a black eye stripe extending from the cere across the eye to the ear coverts. The chin and throat are black and the underside of the bird is pale yellow with a rufous rust patch on either side of the upper breast. Upperparts are medium brown with an olive green rump, marginal and lesser upper wing coverts. The upperwing primary and secondary feathers are brown/black edged with a rufous rust hue. The tail is black with white sides. Winter plumage on the adult male is such as to partially obscure the distinctive breeding patternation and colouring of the summer. In winter, overall there are pale tips to feathers and the head feathers are black with light brown tips. Generally, the ‘winter’ male appears less interesting losing much of the bold ‘summer’ characteristics. The female is not unlike the winter male although paler and more grey with a bolder striping on the head and fine streaks on the breast and belly.
Cirl Bunting perched on a rock
The male cirl bunting’s call is a high pitched, short, solitary note of ‘sip’. The song consists of a metallic sounding trilling similar to ‘ti – ti – ti – ti -ti’ often sung from a bush or perched in a tree and is loud enough to be heard from a distance of up to half a kilometre.
Female Cirl Bunting
During the summer the bird’s preferred diet consists of insects and in particular grasshoppers or locusts. In the winter when there is a scarcity of insects cirl buntings feed on grass seeds and cereal grains foraged from the ground.
Cirl Bunting on a branch
This non migratory little bird is predominantly found within the temperate regions of southern Europe particularly around the Mediterranean, mainland Spain and Portugal, central and southern France, Italy, the Balkans and island groups including the Balearics, Greek Isles, Sicily and Sardinia and regions in north west Africa. Small numbers can be found along the south coast of the UK, particularly between the cities of Exeter and Plymouth and larger populations within the southern hemisphere on New Zealand’s South Island.
Back of a Cirl Bunting
Warm, generally gentle bushy slopes, farmland or small wooded areas fringed with hedges or scrub are ideal venues from which to study cirl buntings. In size and basic appearance resembling a finch but with a longer tail, the male can often be seen singing from the tops of bushes or heard vocalising amongst the trees, requiring patience and an eagle’s eye to spot! They can frequently be seen in small flocks. As with most buntings the bill is short and broad, dark grey to black above and a blue grey below. The bill is constructed in such a way so that the upper mandible, which is smaller than the wider and deeper lower mandible, fits neatly into it.
Cirl Bunting in water
Females build the nest alone over three to four days from twigs, stalks and grasses, lined with fine grass and hair and located low down in bushes or scrub. Dependent upon region, an average of two broods are produced annually between, mid April to late August, usually consisting of 2 – 5 greyish white, brown speckled eggs which are incubated by the female for up to two weeks. Both parents feed the young in the nest and fledging will normally occur between eleven and thirteen days.
Male and Female Cirl Bunting
Juvenile Cirl Bunting
The normal lifespan for a cirl bunting is two to three years.