Common Reed Bunting

Common Reed Bunting
Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus zaidamensis, male, Golmud (36.469523, 94.932342), Qinghai, China, elev. 2770 m (9,100 ft.), July. Distinguished from Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi by larger bill with more arched culmen; generally warmer plumage tones on upperparts; larger size; and proportionately shorter tail. (Craig Brelsford)
Common Reed Bunting
Common Reed Bunting E. s. zaidamensis, female, Golmud (36.469523, 94.932342), Qinghai, elev. 2770 m (9,100 ft.), July. Races of Common Reed Bunting ‘differ mainly in size and bill size, but variation not well understood’ (Copete 2011). Race zaidamensis is resident Zaidam Depression, northwest Qinghai and southeast Xinjiang and is distinguished by its bulbous bill (MacKinnon 2022), large size, and buffish plumage (Copete 2011, MacKinnon 2022). (Craig Brelsford)
Common Reed Bunting
Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus, race presumably pyrrhulina, male assuming breeding plumage, Hengsha Island (31.296964, 121.917228), Shanghai, late March. In Shanghai Common Reed Bunting is an uncommon and possibly overlooked passage migrant and winter visitor. E. s. pyrrhulina breeds northeast China (Jilin, Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia) plus northeast Mongolia, Transbaikalia, and Russian Far East to Kamchatka, Kuril Islands, Hokkaido, and northern Honshu. Winters Honshu, Kyushu, Korean Peninsula, and east China (Brazil 2009, Brazil 2018). (Craig Brelsford)

Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus ranges across much of Eurasia. Breeding and wintering populations in northwest China (passerina, parvirostris, harterti, and centralasiae in Xinjiang, zaidamensis resident Qaidam Basin in Qinghai and Xinjiang) and east China (pyrrhulina breeding northeast China and wintering along coast). HABITAT Thick reeds and grasses around wetlands, in winter further from water. ID & COMPARISON Very similar to Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi. Breeding male has black hood broken by white malar stripe. White neck band extends to neck sides, meeting malar stripe, which in turn is connected to white underparts. Upperparts mainly brown with black streaking on mantle, scapulars, and back. Rump greyish. Has reddish-brown lesser coverts and rufous-brown tips to median and greater coverts. Long tail blackish-brown with extensive white on outer rectrices. Non-breeding male loses black hood, showing instead brown crown and ear coverts with black mottling and buffy supercilium. Distinct, black lateral throat stripe merges with black bib, and breast and flanks streaked black. Female broadly similar to non-breeding male. BARE PARTS Upper mandible black, with arched culmen; lower mandible grey-black. Feet reddish-brown. VOICE Song a slow, repetitive series of chinking phrases and trills. Call a short, plaintive siu, falling in pitch. — Craig Brelsford


Brazil, Mark (2009). Birds of East Asia. Common Reed Bunting, pp. 492–3. Princeton University Press.

Brazil, Mark (2018). Birds of Japan. Common Reed Bunting, pp. 394–5. Helm Field Guides.

Copete, J.L. (2011). Entries Reed Bunting, etc. in family Emberizidae (Buntings and New World Sparrows). Pp. 535–6, in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Christie, D.A. eds. (2011). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 16. Tanagers to New World Blackbirds. Lynx Edicions.

MacKinnon, John (2022). Guide to the Birds of China. Reed Bunting, p. 488. Oxford University Press.

THE BUNTINGS OF CHINA has research on most of the buntings of China. Click any link:

Crested Bunting Emberiza lathami
Yellowhammer E. citrinella
Pine Bunting E. leucocephalos
Rock Bunting E. cia
Godlewski’s Bunting E. godlewskii
Meadow Bunting E. cioides
Jankowski’s Bunting E. jankowskii
Grey-necked Bunting E. buchanani
Ortolan Bunting E. hortulana
Tristram’s Bunting E. tristrami
Chestnut-eared Bunting E. fucata
Little Bunting E. pusilla
Yellow-browed Bunting E. chrysophrys
Rustic Bunting E. rustica
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans
Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola
Chestnut Bunting E. rutila
Tibetan Bunting E. koslowi
Black-headed Bunting E. melanocephala
Red-headed Bunting E. bruniceps
Yellow Bunting E. sulphurata
Black-faced Bunting E. spodocephala
Masked Bunting E. personata
Pallas’s Reed Bunting E. pallasi
Japanese Reed Bunting E. yessoensis
Common Reed Bunting E. schoeniclus


Daniel Bengtsson served as chief ornithological consultant for Craig Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, from which this species description is drawn.

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