Black-headed Bunting (Emberiza melanocephala)

Black-headed Bunting

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Emberizidae | [latin] Emberiza melanocephala | [UK] Black-headed Bunting | [FR] Bruant melanocephale | [DE] Kappenammer | [ES] Escribano cabecinegro | [NL] Zwartkopgors


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

Looks noticeably larger than Yellowhammer with proportionately rather longer bill, more obvious neck, rather longer wings, and distinctly longer legs, but similar tail length; marginally larger than Red-headed Bunting, but no visible structural difference. 2nd largest bunting of west Palearctic, with rather long, tapering bill, rather long body, and noticeably long legs combining into characteristically heavy but sleek form shared only by Red-headed Bunting. Combination of uniformly pale, unstreaked underparts and lack of white outer tail-feathers excludes all other buntings except Red-headed Bunting. ( distinctive, with black head, chestnut back, and yellow underparts; ) and immature lack obvious characters and may not be separable from Red-headed Bunting.

Listen to the sound of Black-headed Bunting

[audio: Bunting.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 26 cm wingspan max.: 30 cm
size min.: 16 cm size max.: 17 cm
incubation min.: 13 days incubation max.: 15 days
fledging min.: 13 days fledging max.: 15 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 4  
      eggs max.: 5  


Eurasia : Southcentral


Breeds in south-west Palearctic in warm temperate, Mediterranean, and steppe zones, between July isotherms of 23-32 degrees C, generally in lowlands, avoiding both drier and wetter extremes. Favours fairly dense and tall bushy and scrub vegetation, including open maquis, wooded steppes, orchards, olive groves, and vineyards, and groves or thickets along streamsides, roadsides, or field borders. Also found in open forest with undergrowth, in open lowland grassland with scrub, especially thorn scrub, and on mountain slopes. Wintering birds in India feed in flocks and cultivated fields, sometimes causing serious damage to standing crops, also occupy scrub jungle, roosting in enormous concentrations with other species in thorn scrub and thickets.


May in West Italy, mid May to half of June in Croatia, mid may to end of June in Greece, May to mid June in Turkey.
Nest site is built in low down in dense, often thorny shrub bramble, rose, rockrose, christ’s thorn and commonly on vine.
Nest is made of loose, untidy foundation of stalks of herbs, grass, and leaves, lined with fine grasses, stems, rootlets, hair, and sheep’s wool. Fairly often with brightly-colored flower-heads on outside.
4-5 eggs, and incubation lasts 13-15 days and is done by both sexes.

Feeding habits

Seeds and other plant material; invertebrates in breeding season. In summer quarters, forages principally in cultivated areas: cereal or sunflower fields, vineyards, orange groves, etc., feeding both on ground and in shrubs or low in trees. Most foraging observations concern migrant birds or winter visitors, since species occurs then in huge numbers often causing considerable damage to millet and other cereals, maize, and rice.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Black-headed Bunting status Least Concern


Migratory, all birds moving south-east or ESE to winter in western and central India. Leaves breeding grounds early, and returns late. Departure (inconspicuous) late July to August, arriving India August-September. Occasional midwinter records from breeding range or intermediate areas, e.g. Israel. In spring, leaves winter quarters March-April; reaches Turkey mostly from late April; sometimes reported in Cyprus as early as March, but usually arrives in early or mid-April, with movement continuing to mid-May. Arrives on Aegean islands and Makedonija late April and early May. Vagrancy west of range is mostly in spring, suggesting overshooting.

Distribution map

Black-headed Bunting distribution range map

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