Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)
Buntings are ground-dwelling birds with stout bills that reflect a strong preference for seed eating. They are found throughout the world but the trio of family members you are most likely to encounter on the Weald Moors are the Corn Bunting, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer. All three have declined in our countryside in recent times but are faring well on the moorlands, which is a regional stronghold for Corn Bunting…
ID: this bulky, sparrow-sized bird is the largest of the UK’s Bunting species. Unlike its canary-coloured cousin the Yellowhammer, the Corn Bunting’s indistinct streaky brown plumage does not offer an immediate visual clue to its identity. However, one of the easier ways to detect its presence in your midst is the song of the male bird, which is often issued from a fence post or overhead wire and frequently likened to a set of jangling keys. When the suspect in question leaves its perch, look out for a distinctive fluttering flight pattern borne on dangling legs — you may just have spotted your first Corn Bunting!
In the Field: Corn Bunting are birds of open arable and mixed farmland, feeding largely on the seeds and grains of grasses and cereal crops (such as barley). However, insects are a vitally important source of chick food for this ground-nesting species and they are taken from grassland, field margins and set aside land between June and August, which is the main breeding season. Cover crops and stubble fields are another key habitat, providing protection during the autumn moult, a time when Corn Buntings are almost flightless.
The UK population has declined by around 90% in the past forty years, so not at all well. Like all birds that depend on farmland for their survival, Corn Buntings require good nesting habitat and sources of winter and summer feeding. Several underlying trends in agriculture over the past few decades appear to have led to a general reduction in the amount of seed and insect food available to birds. Yet, on the Weald Moors several declining farmland species, such as Skylark, Linnet and Quail, are partially bucking the downward trend. Like them, Corn Bunting appear to have benefited from the mosaic of pasture, arable land and open grassy places that have contracted elsewhere but still characterise much of the east Shropshire moorlands.
On the Weald Moors: winter is a time when Corn Bunting flock together to roam the countryside in search of seed food, roosting communally in stubble fields and scrub. The Weald Moors area is a county hotspot for the bird and Wall Farm regularly hosts one of the most significant winter roosts in Shropshire. In spring and summer, breeding birds can be found in small pockets across the Weald Moors and its hinterlands: Long Lane, Eyton Moor, Sleap Farm, Moor Bank and Preston are just some of the locations in which they have been recorded in recent years.