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Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola
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This species has been uplisted from Vulnerable because of indications that the rate of population decline is more rapid than previously thought. It is listed as Endangered, despite its high abundance locally, because of compelling evidence that it is undergoing a very rapid population decline owing mainly to trapping in its non-breeding range. A programme of co-ordinated range-wide monitoring and action is badly needed to quantify the magnitude of the decline and reduce the impact of threats.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Distribution and population
Emberiza aureola breeds across the northern Palaearctic from Finland, Belarus and Ukraine in the west, through Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, to far eastern Russia, Korea and northern Japan. In the autumn, birds stop-over in large numbers to moult in the Yangtze Valley, China, before continuing on to their winter quarters. It winters in a relatively small region in South and South-East Asia, which includes eastern Nepal, north-eastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, southern China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand (Byers et al. 1995). It was formerly one of the most abundant breeding passerines across vast swathes of Siberia, but although there have been no systematic surveys, a severe decline has been noted in most breeding areas and it has completely disappeared from parts of its former breeding range since the early 1990s. No birds have been recorded breeding in Finland since 2009, and its range has contracted northwards by 300 km in Kazakhstan since the late 1990s. In some areas of Kazakhstan however, such as along the Irtysh river near Irtyshsk, there is no evidence of local declines (R. Ayé in litt. 2013). It is estimated to have declined by at least 70% in European Russia between 2000 and 2010, with declines reported in the Moscow, Novgorod, Kostroma, Ulyanovsk and Baikal regions (A. Mischenko in litt. 2012), as well as very rapid declines in the Tyumen region reported in 2011 (J. Kamp in litt. 2012), suggesting a massive decline in the core range (M. Flade in litt. 2007). 
Surveys in 2012 and 2013 suggest that the species has nearly or completely disappeared from Tyumen province in Western Siberia, which appears consistent within an impression of a steep decline across Western Siberia (J. Kamp et al. in litt. 2013). In contrast, recent surveys within and outside protected areas in Amur and Chabarovsk regions, suggest that the species is faring better in the east of its breeding range, with an estimate of 100-150 breeding pairs in Muraviovka Park (c.6,500 ha) in 2013, although anecdotal evidence indicates a decline in these areas since the 1990s (J. Kamp et al. in litt. 2013). Severe declines have also been noted in Hokkaido, Japan and Mongolia (S. Chan and O. Goroshko in litt. 2003, Tamada 2006, M. Gilbert, A. Mischenko and J. Kamp in litt. 2007). It no longer occurs in "swarms" at migration watch-points such as Beidaihe, China, and although a range-wide survey is required, numbers at wintering sites throughout its range have also shown rapid declines over the last twenty years (S. Chan, M. Williams, J. W. Duckworth and N. Moores in litt. 2003, T. Evans, M. Gilbert, M. Williams and S. Chan in litt. 2007). Based on evidence from wintering grounds in Cambodia the species is said to be clearly declining (T. Gray in litt. 2013). Historically, it was noted to be common on the central plain, but is now considered scarce away from the Tonle Sap area, and surveys of birds used in "merit releases" at Phnom Penh riverfront suggest a steep decline in this species since the mid-1990s in the Mekong-Bassac floodplain, where most merit-bird trappers operate (F. Goes in litt. 2013). Furthermore, there has been a lack of records from south-eastern Cambodia since the late 1990s, suggesting that it is very rare and perhaps close to extirpation in that region (F. Goes in litt. 2013). In Nepal, declines in the population and number of localities occupied have been noted since 1990 (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2013). It also appears to have declined at the Hail Haor wetland in north-eastern Bangladesh since the mid-1980s (P. Thompson in litt. 2013). It should be noted that interpretation of the species's status in its non-breeding range based on the usually fragmentary information available is hindered by the erratic appearance of very large flocks (J. W. Duckworth in litt. 2013).

Population justification
In Europe, the breeding population was estimated to number 20,000-100,000 breeding pairs, equating to 60,000-300,000 individuals (BirdLife International 2004). Europe, at least formerly, formed 25-49% of the global range. National population estimates include: c.100-100,000 breeding pairs and c.50-10,000 individuals on migration in China; <c.100,000 breeding pairs and <c.1,000 individuals on migration in Japan and c.10,000-100,000 breeding pairs and c.1,000-10,000 individuals on migration in Russia (Brazil 2009).

Trend justification
Quantitative data for the entire population are lacking, but there is widespread evidence from surveys and anecdotal observations of local declines and range contractions. Based on this information, a very rapid decline is suspected.

It breeds in wet meadows with tall vegetation and scattered scrub, riverside thickets and secondary scrub. It winters in large flocks in cultivated areas, rice fields and grasslands, preferring scrubby dry-water rice fields for foraging and reedbeds for roosting (T. Gray in litt. 2007).

Since many populations on pristine breeding grounds have dropped rapidly, the decline is likely to be driven by excessive trapping at migration and, in particular, wintering sites (S. Chan in litt. 2003, P. Round in litt. 2003, M. Williams in litt. 2007, S. Chan in litt. 2007) Roosting flocks in reedbeds are disturbed and then caught in mist-nets, they are cooked and sold as "sparrows" or "rice-birds"; this practice was formerly restricted to a small area of southern China, but has now become more widespread and popular owing to increasing affluence, and hunters now have to travel widely to find sufficient birds (M. Lau in litt. 2007, M. Williams in litt. 2007, S. Chan in litt. 2007). From 1992 onwards, an estimated several thousand individuals of this species were caught for the annual food festival in Sanshui City, southern China (Gao Yuren 1996). This practice was banned in 1997, but a black market in birds still persists and a huge number of birds are still sold annually, including around 10,000 birds sold daily in a single market in Sanshui (Chan 2004). In 2008, one shipment of 4,300 individuals of this species was reportedly confiscated in Zhejiang province en route to Guangdong province, and the species is said to remain a famous delicacy in southern China (per M. Zhang in litt. 2013). Likewise, the species is considered a delicacy in Cambodia (F. Goes in litt. 2013) and is trapped to be sold to restaurants in Nepal (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2013). In China, thousands of males are also stuffed and sold as mascots, since their presence in the home is thought to confer happiness (A. Mischenko in litt. 2012). At least locally, for example in Cambodia, birds are trapped for "merit release" in temples (J. C. Eames in litt. 2007, F. Goes in litt. 2013). 
Agricultural intensification, the shift to irrigated rice production and consequent loss of winter stubble has reduced the quality and quantity of wintering habitat, and the loss of reedbeds has reduced the number of available roost sites (T. Evans in litt. 2007, J. Tordoff in litt. 2007, J. C. Eames in litt. 2007). Declines caused by pressures on the wintering grounds are compounded by a reduction in habitat quality on the breeding grounds in parts of its range, particularly drying of meadows caused by changes in the flow pattern of rivers, a result of dam construction upstream (O. Goroshko in litt. 2003, J. Kamp in litt. 2007). Declines in Nepal have also been partly attributed to changes in agricultural practices since the 1980s, notably sharp increases in pesticide use (Inskipp and Baral 2011).

Conservation Actions Underway
It is counted occasionally as part of on-going IBA monitoring in a few sites. Conservation Actions Proposed
Implement a programme of co-ordinated range-wide monitoring at breeding, passage and non-breeding sites, in order to quantify the rate of decline. Through awareness campaigns, reduce the demand for the species as a food item, mascot and merit-bird. Research its precise habitat requirements on the wintering grounds. Protect sites which still hold large numbers on the wintering grounds.

BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

Byers, C.; Olsson, U.; Curson, J. 1995. Buntings and sparrows: a guide to the buntings and North American sparrows. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, U.K.

Chan, S. 2004. Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola. BirdingASIA: 16-17.

Inskipp, C.; Baral, H. S. 2011. Potential impacts of agriculture on Nepal birds. Our Nature 8: 270-312.

Tamada, K. 2006. Population change of grassland birds over ten years in Nakashibetsu, eastern Hokkaido. Short Communication. Ornithological Science 5: 127–131.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Derhé, M., Mahood, S. & Taylor, J.

Ayé, R., Chan, S., Duckworth, W., Eames, J.C., Ellermaa, M., Evans, T., Fellowes, J., Flade, M., Frenzel, M., Gilbert, M., Goes, F., Goroshko, O., Gray, T., Heim, W., Inskipp, C., Kamp, J., Kämpfer, S., Lau, M., Mischenko, A., Moores, N., Pilgrim, J., Poo

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Emberiza aureola. Downloaded from on 30/05/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 30/05/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Yellow-breasted bunting (Emberiza aureola)

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Endangered
Family Emberizidae (Buntings, American sparrows and allies)
Species name author Pallas, 1773
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 15,700,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment