Yellowhammer

Emberiza citrinella

Last updated: November 15, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Piotr Kamionka/Shutterstock.com

It interbreeds with the pine bunting


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Yellowhammer Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Emberizidae
Genus
Emberiza
Scientific Name
Emberiza citrinella

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Yellowhammer Conservation Status

Yellowhammer Locations

Yellowhammer Locations

Yellowhammer Facts

Prey
Seeds, insects, plant material
Main Prey
Seeds
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Social
Fun Fact
It interbreeds with the pine bunting
Estimated Population Size
40 to 70 million
Biggest Threat
Habitat destruction
Most Distinctive Feature
Bright yellow heads
Distinctive Feature
Stout, conical bills
Wingspan
9 to 11.6 inches
Incubation Period
12 to 14 days
Age Of Fledgling
11 to 13 days
Habitat
Grasslands, shrublands, farmlands
Predators
Hawks, eagles, falcons, and goshawks
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
Starchy seeds
Type
Bird
Common Name
Yellowhammer
Special Features
Conical bills for seed-eating
Number Of Species
3
Location
Eurasia
Nesting Location
On the ground hidden under bushes and shrubs
Migratory
1

Yellowhammer Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • White
Skin Type
Feathers
Top Speed
25 mph
Lifespan
3.7 years
Weight
0.7 to 1.3 ounces
Length
6.3 to 6.5 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
one year

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“Males learn songs from their fathers and develop regional dialects.”

Summary

The yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) is a large bunting native to Eurasia. It inhabits dry, open country areas with clusters of trees and wide-ranging vegetation. This species is rather social, forming monogamous pair bonds during breeding and foraging in large, mixed-species flocks. They sing their songs in their unique regional dialects as they sit perched on tree branches. Discover all the exciting facts about the yellowhammer, including where it lives, what it eats, and how it behaves.

5 Amazing Yellowhammer Facts

  • Yellowhammers hide their nests in low bushes to prevent nest predation.
  • It is closely related to the pine bunting and will interbreed. Their songs also sound almost identical to each other.
  • They feed their chicks cereal grains to prepare them for a seed diet.
  • Males listen for the distinctive calls of their rivals.
  • Their population is decreasing due to habitat destruction.

Where to Find the Yellowhammer

The yellowhammer lives in Europe and Asia in at least 50 countries, including Germany, France, Poland, Russia, and Italy. While they are the most widespread bunting in Europe, they are absent from the Arctic regions and the high mountains. Most populations spend winters in their breeding range, except those in the northern part of the range, which migrates south. Some yellowhammer populations have also been introduced to South Africa, New Zealand, and the Falkland Islands. This species lives in dry, open country with some vegetation and trees. You can find them in farmlands, shrublands, grasslands, and forest clearings. Look for them singing in trees or foraging for food in large flocks on the ground. 

Yellowhammer Nest

Females build their nests on or near the ground, hiding them in low bushes or other foliage. She forms a cup using plant material, such as leaves and dry grass, and lines it with soft grass and animal hair.

Scientific Name

The yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) is from the Emberizidae family, which includes the buntings, a group of Old World passerine seed-eating birds with conical bills. Its Emberiza genus also contains the 45 species of buntings. The specific name, citrinella, is the Italian word for a small yellow bird. There are three recognized subspecies of the yellowhammer.

Size, Appearance, & Behavior

The yellowhammer is a large bunting, measuring 6.3 to 6.5 inches long and weighing 0.7 to 1.3 ounces, with a 9 to 11.6-inch wingspan. This bird is rotund with a thick neck, a short beak, and a long tail. Adult males have bright yellow yeads and heavily streaked brown backs, rump, and wings. Its undersides are yellow with white outer tail feathers. Females are a dull yellow with heavier streaks on their crowns, breasts, and flanks. Juveniles are lighter in color than both sexes and have pale rumps. 



This species is relatively social, forming pair bonds during breeding and foraging in large, mixed species flocks. Males learn songs from their fathers and develop a regional dialect, but all dialects are mutually recognized. They produce a series of short notes which increase in volume and end in one to two protracted notes; their songs are almost identical to a pine bunting. Their flight is slightly jerky, followed by long, smooth soaring. Their speed is unknown but may reach up to 25 Mph.

Migration Pattern and Timing

Yellowhammers are resident to partially migratory in their range. The European species winter in their breeding range, with only the far northern regions evacuating during winter. The Asian species breeds in Russia and migrates south to winter in Iraq, Iran, and parts of Central Asia.

Diet

Yellowhammers are omnivores who forage in flocks.

What Does the Yellowhammer Eat?

These birds forage on the ground in large flocks, sometimes numbering the hundreds and containing buntings and finches. Their diet consists primarily of starchy seeds, plant material, and insects. They feed their chicks invertebrates and cereal grains to prepare them for their heavy-seed diet. They consume plant materials, such as nettle, knotgrass, chickweed, and yarrow. And they will eat a wide range of insects like grasshoppers, flies, beetles, spiders, snails, caterpillars, and worms.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists the yellowhammer as LC or “least concern.” Due to its extensive range and substantial population, this species does not meet the “threatened” status thresholds. However, they are suspected of being in decline in Europe. Their most significant threat is habitat destruction from the agricultural industry, which includes a reduction in the cultivation of cereal crops and the intensification of farmland management. 

What Eats the Yellowhammer?

Yellowhammer predators include sparrowhawks, lesser spotted eagles, falcons, and northern goshawks. This bird is a ground nester whose eggs and young are vulnerable to small mammals like mice and other rodents. Crows, jays, and magpies are also known for raiding yellowhammer nests. These birds use hedges or bushes as protective nesting sites, and males listen for the distinctive songs of potential threats and rivals. 

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Their breeding season begins in April or May, and they can reproduce when they reach one year old. Yellowhammers form monogamous pair bonds, and males perform courtship rituals, such as raising their wings and running toward the females. Yellowhammers also interbreed with the pine bunting, its closest relative. Females lay three to five white eggs with dark lines and incubate them for 12 to 14 days. Both parents assist in feeding the chicks until they fledge the nest around 11 to 13 days after hatching. Adult yellowhammers produce two to three broods per year. This species has an average lifespan of 3.7 years but can live more than 13. 

Population

The global yellowhammer population is estimated to number 40 to 70 million mature individuals. Europe encompasses 60% of its global range, and its breeding population includes 12.8 to 19.9 million pairs. Despite its large population, its numbers are decreasing at a moderate rate. Habitat destruction is thought to be the reason for its decline.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer for A-Z Animals, and her primary focus is on birds, travel, and interesting facts of all kinds. Niccoy has been writing and researching about travel, nature, wildlife, and business for several years and holds a business degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver. A resident of Florida, Niccoy enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, and spending time at the beach.

Yellowhammer FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where does the yellowhammer live?

Yellowhammers live in the Eurasia region in at least 50 countries. They inhabit dry, open areas like grasslands, shrublands, farmlands, and forest clearings.

How big is a yellowhammer?

The yellowhammer is a large bunting, measuring 6.3 to 6.5 inches long and weighing 0.7 to 1.3 ounces, with a 9 to 11.6-inch wingspan.

Are yellowhammer birds social?

This species is relatively social, forming pair bonds during breeding and foraging in large, mixed species flocks.

What does a yellowhammer sound like?

They produce a series of short notes which increase in volume and end in one to two protracted notes. Their songs are almost identical to a pine bunting.

How fast does a yellowhammer fly?

Their speed is unknown but may reach up to 25 Mph.

Do yellowhammers migrate?

The Asian species breeds in Russia and migrates south to winter in Iraq, Iran, and parts of Central Asia.

What do yellowhammers eat?

Their diet consists mainly of seeds. They also consume plant materials, such as nettle, knotgrass, chickweed, and yarrow. And they will eat a wide range of insects like grasshoppers, flies, beetles, spiders, snails, caterpillars, and worms.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources

  1. Journal of Ornithology, Springer Verlag / Thibaud Gruber, Laurent Nagle, Available here: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00573486/document
  2. Red List / BirdLife International, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22720878/89289181

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