Male is unmistakeable due to bright yellow head. Females are more low-key.
The yellowhammer is fairly large with a long tail. It has a thick, wedge-shaped bill. Male and female yellowhammers differ noticeably in appearance. The male in summer is attractively coloured with a bright, lemon yellow head and underparts, interspersed with chestnut streaking extending over wings, mantle and rump. Its plumage dulls in winter and feathers take on greyish-green tips. The female is more drab in general, with heavier facial markings and pale yellow underparts. Juveniles are similar to females but with extensive streaking on their head and breast in particular.
Yellowhammers are sometimes also referred to as scribblers or scribble larks due to the squiggly lines on their legs.
The “sre-sre-sre-sre-sre-sre siii suuuu” song of the yellowhammer is said to sound like “little bit of bread and NO cheese” — a phrase reportedly coined by Enid Blyton, but which probably has deeper roots. Its call is a discordant “stuuff”.
Yellowhammers primarily feed on seeds and cereals. They will also eat insects during breeding season.
Yellowhammers are resident and widespread in the UK and can be seen all year round. They are least abundant in upland areas such as the Scottish Highlands, Pennines and parts of Wales. They prefer open countryside with bushes and hedgerows. The RSPB reserves Winterbourne Downs and Gwenffrwd-Dinas can be good places to look for yellowhammers.
Yellowhammer close up
While not particularly shy, yellowhammers are wary and will often flush early from cover and make a long, circular flight, alighting back close to where they took off. Their flight is slightly jerky with long undulations, and will reveal white tail corners and striking, unstressed rump. Males will often sing from vantage points such as the top of bushes. Yellowhammers tend to gather in small flock outside of breeding season.
Yellowhammer pairs share parenting duties. Females will build a nest and brood the eggs, while the males brings her food. The nest, built low down in dense vegetation, is cup-shaped and will contain 3-5 pale eggs with dark scribbling and spots. Yellowhammer eggs are camouflaged to blend in with the surroundings. Eggs will be incubated for around 2 weeks and once hatched have a fledging period of up to 16 days. Parents can raise up to 3 broods a year.
Yellowhammer nest with eggs
Yellowhammers generally live for around 3 years.
Yellowhammers are generally sedentary. UK populations can increase in October with visitors from Scandinavia.
There are 700,000 UK breeding territories. However, the species is red-listed on both the Irish and British lists of Birds of Conservation Concern. In Northern Ireland, numbers have declined by 65 percent since 1991.