The Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra is one of our most abundant and widespread songbirds in Andalucía with the males’ jangling keys song delivered from a prominent perch; a common sound in Spring and Summer. The bird is particularly associated with farmland, cultivated deheseas and more open countryside. However, the Corn Bunting has seen a significant decline in numbers in Andalucía, with the common breeding bird survey of the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO) quoting a 17% decline in a 15-year period, up to 2013. This is worrying, but relatively small when compared to the situation in North-west Europe.
The species has become extinct as a breeding bird in Ireland and saw a decline of 89% between 1970 and 2004 in the UK. Changes in farming practice are implicated in this decline, with reductions in the cultivated area of barley, a switch towards autumn sowing of cereals, replacement of hay by silage, and a decline in traditional rotations and mixed farming practices.
The increased use of pesticides and the removal of hedgerows may have reduced the food supply of Corn Buntings, something that may explain the fall in numbers of Corn Buntings in olive groves in Andalucía, following the increased use of pesticides and herbicides.
Male corn buntings have been known to mate with as many as 18 different females in a single breeding season. The male plays no part in incubating the eggs but does sometimes help with feeding the young. Three to five eggs are laid in a nest of dried grass built by the female in arable crops or rough grassy margins.
Usually found with other buntings (Emberiza) on the last page of our field guides, before the exotics and vagrants.
Note: Often separated in the monotypic genus Miliaria on account of lack of sexual dimorphism, moult strategy (the only bunting to have complete post-juvenile moult), and differences in bill structure and tertial pattern; molecular studies, however, suggest that genetic differences are so small that placement into a separate genus is not warranted.
Article and photos: Kevin Wade ABS Member
Note: The views expressed in articles are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Society.