In 1760 the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson included a description of the Cape bunting in his Ornithologie based on a specimen collected at the Cape of Good Hope. He used the French name L'ortolan du Cap de Bonne Espérance and the Latin Hortulanus capitis bonae spei. Although Brisson coined Latin names, these do not conform to the binomial system and are not recognised by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. When in 1766 the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus updated his Systema Naturae for the twelfth edition, he added 240 species that had been previously described by Brisson. One of these was the Cape bunting. Linnaeus included a brief description, coined the binomial name Emberiza capensis and cited Brisson's work. Linnaeus had introduced the genus Emberiza in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae. The specific name capensis is used to denote the Cape of Good Hope.
There are a ten subspecies. They differ in plumage, but all have the distinctive head pattern and rufous in the wings. The north-eastern race E. c. vincenti is very dark above, and slaty below. It has reduced chestnut on the wing coverts. It is now usually raised to species status as Vincent's bunting, Emberiza vincenti, however some taxonomists still consider it to be conspecific.
The Cape bunting is 16 cm long. The adult has a black crown, white supercilium and black-bordered white ear coverts. The upperparts are grey brown with some dark streaks, and the wing coverts are chestnut. The tail is darker chestnut, and the underparts are grey with a pale throat. The sexes are very similar, but females may have a buff tone to the white head markings. Young birds have duller chestnut wings, a less distinct head pattern, and heavier streaking extending on to the breast and flanks. The call is an ascending zzoo-zeh-zee-zee. The song is a loud chirping chup chup chup chup chee chhep chu. E. c. vincenti has a simple tre-re-ret tre-re-ret song.
Distribution and habitat
The Cape bunting occurs in southern Africa from south-western Angola, eastern Zambia, Zimbabwe and southern Tanzania to the Cape. Its habitat is rocky slopes and dry weedy scrub, mainly in mountains in the north of its range. It previously utilized stony arid areas with some short grass, but much of this has been lost to ploughing.
The Cape bunting is not gregarious, and is normally seen alone, in pairs or family groups. It feeds on the ground on seeds, insects and spiders. Its lined cup nest is built low in a shrub or tussock. The two to four eggs are cream and marked with red-brown and lilac.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Emberiza capensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, especes & leurs variétés (in French and Latin). Volume 3. Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. pp. 280–282, Plate 14 fig 4. The two stars (**) at the start of the section indicates that Brisson based his description on the examination of a specimen.
- Allen, J.A. (1910). "Collation of Brisson's genera of birds with those of Linnaeus". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 28: 317–335.
- Linnaeus, Carl (1766). Systema naturae : per regna tria natura, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Volume 1, Part 1 (12th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 310.
- Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Volume 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae:Laurentii Salvii. p. 176.
- Jobling, J.A. (2018). del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E., eds. "Key to Scientific Names in Ornithology". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
- Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2018). "Buntings". World Bird List Version 8.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
- Byers, Olsson and Curson, Buntings and Sparrows ISBN 1-873403-19-4
- Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey and Warwick Tarboton, SASOL Birds of Southern Africa (Struik 2002) ISBN 1-86872-721-1
- Cape bunting - Species text in The Atlas of Southern African Birds.