Reed Bunting (Emberiza Schoeniclus)
The Weald Moors landscape may be far removed from its watery fenland origins but some sights and sounds on our moorland safari would be as familiar to our ancient ancestors as they are to us. It may be easy to overlook in favour of a wheeling Lapwing or burbling Curlew but the elemental pleasures of a Reed Bunting singing from a dense stand of tall plants at the edge of a pond or ditch are an equally intrinsic part of the fabric of the area… and one that is becoming increasingly scarce elsewhere.
ID: this sparrow-sized bird has streaky brown plumage and pale undersides but is notably less bulky looking than its cousin the Corn Bunting. During the breeding season, male Reed Buntings sport a black head (which reverts to a dull brown colour during winter) and distinctive white collar and drooping moustache. They are a conspicuous presence in wetland habitat during spring and early summer, singing from perches on reeds and other tall plants in order to attract females to their territories.
In the Field: a classic wetland species, Reed Buntings are typically found amid stands of dense vegetation on the edges of water bodies and waterlogged ground. Riverside scrub, reed beds and, increasingly, overgrown ditches are frequent haunts, while they are a growing presence on farmland, too, where they form winter flocks with finches, sparrows and other buntings. Adult birds feed on seeds, searching close to ground level in low vegetation, which is also their preferred nest-building habitat. The insect food required for growing young is often gleaned from sedges and reeds.
How Are They Doing? The UK population has diminished by around 30% in the last forty years and the Reed Bunting is now an amber listed species of conservation concern. While the reasons for this decline are not fully understood, it appears likely that factors affecting the health of other farmland birds (i.e. loss of suitable habitat and related opportunities for nesting and feeding) may well be part of the overall picture.
On the Weald Moors: Reed Buntings are resident in the UK all-year-round and can be seen right across the Weald Moors. The restored wetland at Wall Farm, where large winter roosts are often recorded, is a good starting point for exploration. Village Farm in Preston, Wappenshall Moor (which adjoins a well-vegetated section of the old Shrewsbury Canal) and, for the particularly intrepid, Donnington Drive Sewage Works are other places that may provide a glimpse of this charismatic local inhabitant.