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Yellowhammer

Male Yellowhammer
Male: Bright yellow head, streaky chestnut brown upperparts, chestnut rump and pale yellow below.
Female Yellowhammer
Female: Like the male but duller.
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The Yellowhammer is a sparrow-sized bunting.

The male is mostly yellow with brown upperparts that have darker streaking. The rump is chestnut brown. The cleft tail has white towards the tips of the outer tail feathers. The bill is grey and the legs flesh-brown.

The female is duller and can be rather brown looking.

Juveniles are darker and less yellow looking than females.

Confusion with the Siskin (a finch) should be unlikely as the Yellowhammer is considerably bigger, a little larger than a Chaffinch. In the south-west of England, confusion with the scarcer Cirl Bunting is possible - the main difference is that the Cirl Bunting has an olive-grey rather than chestnut brown rump.

Yellowhammer
Yellowhammer
Cirl Bunting
Cirl Bunting
Cirl Bunting
Cirl Bunting

Scientific Name Emberiza citrinella
Length 16 cm  (6½")
Wing Span 23-29 cm  (9-11")
Weight 24-30 g  (¾-1 oz)
Breeding Pairs 1200000
Present All Year
Status Red

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.

Voice

The Yellowhammer often sings from the top of a tree or fence post, and its high-pitched song is the well-known "little bit of bread and no cheese".

Song

© Jean Roché, www.sittelle.com

Feeding

Yellowhammers are at home on arable farms and in hedgerows where they feed on seed and grain.

In winter they often join mixed flocks of finches and buntings.

Corn and seed is most likely to attract them into the garden, especially in winter and spring when natural food supplies are short.

Nesting

The cup-shaped nest of the Yellowhammer is built by the female with grass and moss, and lined with hair and grass. The nest is usually on the ground amidst hedgerows, grasses, or shrubs.

The female incubates the eggs (22 mm by 15 mm), which are smooth, glossy and white with few purplish markings. The young are fed by both parents.

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
late April 2-3 2-6 11-14 14-16

Movements

British Yellowhammers rarely move far from their breeding areas in winter except for those in upland areas, which will move to lower ground.

Conservation

The breeding population of the Yellowhammer has declined by more than 50% over the last 25 years so the species appears on the Red List of birds of high conservation concern. This decline is most likely a result of modern farming practices: autumn sowing of crops and the loss of winter stubble, which is affecting many other arable farmland birds, such as Skylarks, finches and buntings.

Set-aside (uncultivated land in which various wildlife habitats may develop over a number of years), wide field margins and traditional hedgerow management can help to halt and reverse their decline.