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7 Fascinating Facts About the Common Reed Bunting

The European Storm-Petrel is a small seabird with a fascinating life history that makes it an intriguing species to study. It is a dark, stocky bird that spends most of its life out at sea.

This species of bird is considered to be an enigmatic, elusive, and somewhat mysterious seabird, but its unique adaptation to life at sea has made it one of the most successful oceanic birds on the planet. In this article, we will delve into the identification, plumages, and molts of the European Storm-Petrel.


Field Identification

The European Storm-Petrel is a diminutive bird that measures between 14-18 cm with a wingspan of 36-39cm. When seen at a great distance, its small size and dark coloration may lead to confusion with other species of storm-petrels.

But on closer inspection, it reveals several unique features that distinguish it from other similar looking species. One of these distinctive features is that it carries its wings in a distinctive humpbacked fashion while in flight; this enables it to flap its wings rapidly yet efficiently to keep up with oceanic winds.

The bird has a slightly steep forehead and a short, stubby tail that appears square-tipped when seen from behind.

Similar Species

The European Storm-Petrel is one of the easiest storm-petrels to identify in Europe, but some similar looking species can be found in other parts of the world. One of these is the Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, which is prevalent in the Southern hemisphere.

These two species look quite similar, but Wilson’s Storm-Petrel has a more forked tail and a very distinct white rump. Other species that may be confused with the European Storm-Petrel are the Black-bellied Storm-Petrel and the Leach’s Storm-Petrel.


The European Storm-Petrel has two plumages: the breeding and non-breeding plumage. Both plumages are dark, but the breeding plumage is slightly shinier and more vibrant, while the non-breeding plumage is somewhat faded.

The breeding plumage is characterized by a white or silvery patch that starts from the base of the bill and extends backward over the eyes.


Like all birds, the European Storm-Petrel molts its feathers. Molting is the process of renewing the feathers of a bird.

The European Storm-Petrel goes through two molting cycles: the basic and alternate plumage. The basic plumage molt occurs after the breeding season and is characterized by the simultaneous replacement of all feathers.

The alternate plumage molt takes place before the breeding season and is characterized by the replacement of certain key feathers that are required for display, courtship, and reproduction.


The European Storm-Petrel is a unique and fascinating seabird that has adapted to life at sea in ways that enable it to survive where few other birds can. The identification, plumages, and molts of this species are intriguing subjects that provide useful insights into the behavior and ecology of this elusive and mysterious seabird.

Understanding these aspects of the European Storm-Petrel is imperative for conservationists and bird enthusiasts alike, as it allows us to protect this species and ensure its survival for generations to come.

Systematics History

The Common Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) is a small passerine bird within the Emberizidae family. The systematics history of this bird has been continuously updated as genetic and morphological data become available, leading to numerous changes in its classification over time.

Initially, the species was classified as a member of the genus Fringilla, but its classification has since changed, and it is now found under the genus Emberiza. In this article, we will delve into the geographic variation, subspecies, related species, and historical changes to distribution of the Common Reed Bunting.

Geographic Variation

The Common Reed Bunting is widespread throughout much of the Palearctic region, breeding from Iceland, Norway, and Sweden east to Kamchatka and south to Iran. It is also found in parts of the Nearctic region, including Alaska, Canada, and the contiguous United States.

Throughout its range, variation in coloration and morphology exists due to differences in environmental conditions. The bird’s coloration ranges from reddish-brown to dark grey-brown in the upperparts, with black streaks and white in the underparts.

Its head and neck have contrasting brown and white stripes.


There are currently over thirty recognized subspecies of the Common Reed Bunting. Some of these include:

– Emberiza schoeniclus witherbyi: breeding in the west of the British Isles, in Ireland, and most of western Europe, with a reddish-brown rump.

– Emberiza schoeniclus pyrrhuloides: breeding in Siberia and the Amur region, with a browner bird overall. – Emberiza schoeniclus intermedia: breeding in northeastern Europe to western Siberia, with a larger body size and reddish-brown rump.

Related Species

The Common Reed Bunting is closely related to other bunting species such as the Rustic Bunting (Emberiza rustica) and Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella). It shares many similarities in both behavior and morphology with these species, but differences exist in their respective ranges, vocalizations, and plumage.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Common Reed Bunting has undergone significant changes in its distribution throughout history, both due to natural and anthropogenic factors. During the Pleistocene, the bird’s range was restricted to parts of Central and Southern Europe.

As the glaciers began to retreat, the Common Reed Bunting started to spread throughout the rest of the continent and into Asia. Today, it is one of the most widespread bunting species in Eurasia.

Anthropogenic factors, such as habitat destruction and climate change, have caused a decline in the population of the Common Reed Bunting in parts of its range. In particular, changes in agricultural practices have had a significant impact, as they often involve the removal of reed beds, which provide important habitat for these birds.

The loss of wetland areas, through habitat conversion, drainage, or pollution, has also been a factor.


The Common Reed Bunting is a fascinating passerine bird with a complex systematics history. Its geographic variation and wide range of subspecies illustrate the adaptability of the species to different environmental conditions.

Related species and broad changes to the distribution of the Common Reed Bunting highlight the interconnectedness of bird populations and the importance of conservation efforts to maintain viable populations. Further research on its ecological requirements, including food, breeding habitat, and population genetics, is needed to better understand and conserve this species for future generations.


The Common Reed Bunting is typically found in reed beds or areas with dense vegetation that provides ample cover and nesting sites. Its primary habitat is marshes, swamps, and damp meadows, but it is also known to inhabit agricultural fields, hedgerows, and forest edges.

The birds distribution corresponds to the availability of suitable habitat, with populations occurring from sea level to above the tree line.

Movements and Migration

The Common Reed Bunting is mostly sedentary and tends not to migrate over long distances. However, seasonal movements may occur in some populations due to environmental factors such as food availability, winter severity, and breeding conditions.

In parts of its range, the bird will move to lower altitudes or coastal areas to escape harsh winter conditions. Some populations may also migrate to breeding areas with more abundant food resources or better nesting sites.

In Europe and Asia, the species typically breeds between mid-April and mid-July. During the breeding season, males sing loudly to establish and maintain their territories, and courtship displays are also common.

After breeding, the birds tend to disperse from their breeding grounds, although some individuals may remain in the area throughout the year. In contrast, in North America, the Common Reed Bunting breeds between May and July, with migration occurring between September and October.

Populations in the northern parts of the United States and Canada will typically migrate southward to spend the winter months in the southern parts of the continent. Most of these birds migrate to Mexico, parts of Central America, and northern South America.

During seasonal movements, individual Common Reed Buntings will often flock together with other small songbirds, such as sparrows and finches. These mixed flocks can be found foraging in open fields and hedgerows, searching for food sources such as insects and seeds.

The factors driving seasonal movements and migration of the Common Reed Bunting are still not fully understood, and more research is needed to elucidate their patterns in different parts of the species’ range. Climate change and habitat loss may have significant impacts on the species’ movements and migration, potentially resulting in the disruption of traditional patterns and increased pressure on populations already under stress.


The Common Reed Bunting is primarily a sedentary species, although seasonal movements and migration may occur in some contexts. Its habitat preferences are well-adapted to the species’ ecological requirements for food, shelter, and nesting sites.

Understanding the factors that drive movements and migration and the environmental cues that trigger these behaviors is essential to effective conservation and management of the species. Efforts to preserve and protect the species and its habitat are an essential aspect of maintaining viable populations in the future.

Habitat loss and fragmentation, through human activities such as agriculture and development or climate change-related pressures, can have severe implications for the health of the species. More research is needed to understand the ecological requirements of the Common Reed Bunting, their movements and migration patterns, and the factors that drive these behaviors to aid in conservation efforts.

Diet and Foraging

The Common Reed Bunting is an opportunistic and primarily granivorous species, feeding on seeds throughout the year. As a ground-loving bird, it forages on the ground or low bushes, using a hopping gait to move around.

These buntings also use their bills to forage for insects, spiders, and other arthropods. The species has a unique digestive system consisting of a muscular gizzard, which aids in the grinding of seeds to enable appropriate digestion.


The Common Reed Bunting feeds in small flocks during the non-breeding season, foraging on the ground or sometimes perching in low bushes in search of food. During the breeding season, these birds become territorial, with males establishing and actively maintaining their territories.

They will usually be seen foraging singly or with their females in the immediate vicinity of their territory. This territorial behavior means the availability of food resources within the territory is essential for the species breeding success.


The Common Reed Bunting is primarily granivorous, and the majority of its diet consists of seeds of various grasses and plants. These birds are particularly fond of small seeds of Polygonum and Chenopodiaceae.

During winter months, the species expands its diet to include small invertebrates, such as spiders, caterpillars, and beetles, which provide additional sources of protein. In European populations, the Common Reed Bunting feeds on sprouted cereal crops, particularly during periods of snow cover when other food sources are scarce.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Common Reed Bunting has adapted to its varied diet by changing the metabolic processes that convert food into energy. It has been suggested that this species may slow down its metabolic rate during periods of food scarcity, allowing it to conserve energy until food is more readily available.

This ability is essential for bridging the gaps between lean times and helps to sustain energy during foraging and migration. Additionally, the Common Reed Bunting has physical adaptations that help regulate its internal body temperature, enabling it to conserve energy and maintain homeostasis.

Sounds and Vocal


The Common Reed Bunting is a vocally active bird, with a distinctive song consisting of several high-pitched notes and a trill, often compared to the sound of a coin dropping into a piggy bank. Males sing throughout the day, and songs are structured to convey information about breeding status and location to females and other males.

These songs help to maintain territories and establish mating connections.


Male Common Reed Buntings have a more significant repertoire than females, singing complex songs to maintain their territories. The songs consist of high-pitched chirps and trills, with a final rapid series of notes.

These songs often vary with the season, with louder and more elaborate songs occurring during the breeding season. Female Common Reed Buntings are also capable of singing, but their songs are often quieter and less elaborate than those of males.

Aside from singing, Common Reed Buntings produce a variety of contact calls, which are used to maintain flock communication during the non-breeding season. These may include a series of short, sharp notes, or a softer, more soothing call, depending on the context.


The Common Reed Bunting has a unique and varied diet, primarily consisting of seeds, with occasional forages of invertebrates. The species has adapted to varied food sources through changes in metabolic processing and the ability to regulate internal temperature.

Their vocally active behavior involves a complex song consisting of various chirps and trills, used to maintain territories, communicate with other birds, and attract mates. Understanding the feeding and vocal behavior of this species is critical to conserving and managing populations of this unique passerine bird.


The Common Reed Bunting displays a range of behaviors, including locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, and sexual behavior.


Common Reed Buntings are primarily ground-dwelling birds and have a hopping gait that helps them move around. When threatened, they are capable of flying short distances to escape predators or defend their territories.


The Common Reed Bunting spends a considerable amount of time preening its feathers to keep them clean and in good condition. This behavior is especially important for thermoregulation, which is essential to maintain their internal body temperature.

The species also forages for grit, which it uses to grind seeds in its gizzard. Agonistic


Common Reed Buntings exhibit agonistic behavior during the breeding season, with males defending their territories and courting females.

They will act aggressively towards any intruders and can become extremely vocal if their territory is threatened. Sexual


During the breeding season, males sing complex songs to attract females, and engage in courtship displays to establish mating connections.

Common Reed Buntings form monogamous pairs for the duration of the breeding season and will often nest in close proximity to each other.


The breeding season of the Common Reed Bunting is from April to July in most of its range. Male buntings establish territories by singing loudly and displaying their physical attributes, such as crest raising, tail spreading, and bill fencing.

Males build nests made of grass and reed stems in dense vegetation near the ground. They will also defend their nests vigorously and are known to attack predators who approach.

After the male establishes a territory, he begins a courtship ritual by singing and exhibiting physical displays that attract a female. Once a mating pair is established, the female builds the nest with the male providing the majority of the materials.

The female will lay a clutch of three to five pale blue eggs, which will hatch after around two weeks of incubation, with both parents contributing to the incubation. The chicks are born with sparse, downy feathers and are fed regurgitated insects and seeds by both parents.

The young birds fledge after around two weeks and become independent after around a month.

Demography and Populations

The Common Reed Bunting is a widespread and common species, with global populations estimated to be in the millions. Despite this, the species is subject to habitat loss and fragmentation, which is likely to impact population levels in the future.

In Europe, the species experienced significant declines in the late 20th century, but populations have stabilized in recent years, likely related to conservation efforts and habitat restoration projects. In North America, populations are much more restricted and tend to be centered around coastal regions and wetlands.

Recent studies have suggested that some populations of Common Reed Buntings may be experiencing significant genetic structure and that local populations may be highly differentiated. This highlights the importance of considering the genetic structure of populations when implementing conservation measures.


The Common Reed Bunting is a fascinating species, with a range of behaviors and adaptations for successful breeding and survival. Its mating rituals and territorial behaviors are unique and allow for successful reproduction and the proliferation of the species.

However, habitat loss and fragmentation pose significant threats to populations of the Common Reed Bunting, emphasizing the need for conservation efforts aimed at maintaining viable populations. Further studies on the species’ demography and population genetics are needed to fully understand the conservation status and requirements of this unique passerine bird.

In conclusion, the Common Reed Bunting is a unique and fascinating bird species with a rich ecological history and complex behaviors. Understanding its systematics history, habitat requirements, movements and migration patterns, feeding behavior, sexual behavior and breeding rituals, demographic profiles, and population genetics is essential to ensure long-term conservation efforts for the species.

This bird’s success is indicative of the interconnectedness of ecosystems and demonstrates the importance of conserving habitats and other drivers of biodiversity. The conservation efforts aimed at conserving the Common Reed Bunting and other species are therefore critical for maintaining the global ecological balance and ensuring the survival of these vital species for generations to come.

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