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This article is about the Eurasian bird. For other uses, see Yellowhammer (disambiguation).
About this sound Song 
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Emberizidae
Genus: Emberiza
Species: E. citrinella
Binomial name
Emberiza citrinella
Linnaeus, 1758
Range map (countries where it has been recorded are marked entirely, even if only recorded in a small part)
Emberiza citrinella - MHNT
A heavily streaked brown back.

The Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) is a passerine bird in the bunting family Emberizidae native to Europe and Asia, as well as being introduced to New Zealand. It is common in all sorts of open areas with some scrub or trees and form small flocks in winter.


Emberizidae is a large family of around 300 seed-eating bird species, of which the majority are found in the Americas. The genus Emberiza, is an Old World group of more than forty species,[2] The Yellowhammer is closely related to the Pine Bunting with which it forms a superspecies. They have formerly sometimes been considered as one species. The White-capped and Cirl Buntings are also near relatives of the species pair.[3]

The Yellowhammer was described by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758 under its current scientific name.[4] Emberiza is derived from the German Embritz, a bunting,[5] and citrinella is the Italian for a small yellow bird.[6] The English name is thought to be from the German word ammer meaning bunting, and was first recorded in 1553 as yelambre.[7]


The Yellowhammer is a robust 15.5–17 cm long bird, with a thick seed-eater's bill. The male has a bright yellow head, yellow underparts, and a heavily streaked brown back. The female is much duller, and more streaked below. The familiar, if somewhat monotonous, song of the cock is often described as A little bit of bread and no cheese, although the song varies greatly in space.[8]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The Yellowhammer breeds across Europe and much of Asia. In Europe and Asia most birds are resident, but some far northern birds migrate south in winter. It was introduced to New Zealand in 1862 and is now common and widespread there. At the beginning of the 20th century counted as a serious pest and bounties were offered for his eggs.[9]



The nest is on the ground. 3-6 eggs are laid, which show the hair-like markings characteristic of those of buntings. It is most commonly found on lowland arable and mixed farmland, probably due to the greater availability of seeds. It nests in hedges, patches of scrub, and ditches, especially if these have a wide grass margin next to them, and a cereal crop next to the margin. Hedges of up to two metres tall are preferred, and they will not nest until it is in full leaf, building the nest next to the hedge if it is built before this. In winter, the flocks feed at good seed sites, such as newly-sown fields and over-wintered stubbles.


Its natural diet consists of insects when feeding young, and otherwise seeds. Seeds of:[citation needed]

Invertebrates - mainly, but not exclusively - taken through the breeding season:

They are more able to feed on the slower-moving invertebrates.


The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates the European population of the Yellowhammer to be from 54–93 million individuals, suggesting a global total of 73–186 million birds. Although the population appear to be declining, the decrease is not rapid enough to trigger the vulnerability criteria. The large numbers and huge breeding range mean that this bunting is classified by the IUCN as being of Least Concern.[1]

In parts of Europe it is in serious decline; in the UK the species fell by 54% between 1970 and 2003. In Ireland it is now rare except in the south-east.

In culture[edit]

As a conspicuous, vocal and formerly common country bird, the Yellowhammer has several references in culture. Yellowham Wood and Yellowham Hill, near Dorchester, both derive their names from the bird. Robbie Burns' poem "The Yellow Yellow Yorlin'" gets its title from a Scottish name for the bird, which is given an obvious sexual connotation: I met a pretty maid, an’ unto her I said,/ “I wad fain fin’ your yellow, yellow yorlin’.”. [10] John Clare;s "The Yellowhammer" and the "The Yellowhammer's Nest" are more factual descriptions of the bird and its behaviour.

Carl Czerny claimed that Beethoven admitted he got the idea for the first four notes of his 5th symphony from the yellowhammer's call.[11][12] The bird prefaces the last, lower, note with 5 or more notes - instead of Beethoven's three - and occasionally sings the last note higher than the others.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2012). "Emberiza citrinella". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Hoyo, Josep del; Elliott, Andrew; Sargatal, Jordi; Christie, David A (eds.). "Emberizidae". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 13 April 2014.  (subscription required)
  3. ^ Hoyo, Josep del; Elliott, Andrew; Sargatal, Jordi; Christie, David A (eds.). "Yellowhammer". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 13 April 2014.  (subscription required)
  4. ^ Linnaeus (1758) p. 177.
  5. ^ Jobling (2010) p. 145.
  6. ^ Jobling (2010) p. 110.
  7. ^ "Yellowhammer". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 13 April 2014. (subscription required)
  8. ^ Yellowhammer Dialects project,
  9. ^ Te Ara, Encyclopaedia of New Zealand,
  10. ^ Cocker & Mabey (2005) pp. 460–461.
  11. ^ Bowden, Sylvia (2008). "The theming magpie: the influence of birdsong on Beethoven motifs". The Musical Times 149 (1903): 17–35. Retrieved 8 July 2013. 
  12. ^ Cain, Terry (2004). "Program Notes:Beethoven - Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67". The Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved July 2013. 

External links[edit]