Family Old World Buntings (Emberizidae)

Least Concern

Cape Bunting (Emberiza capensis)


French: Bruant du Cap German: Kapammer Spanish: Escribano de El Cabo

Emberiza capensis


, 1766,

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa


Sometimes placed in genus Fringillaria. NE race vincenti sometimes treated as a separate species, but it appears to represent terminal form in a W–E cline of increasingly dark underparts, although (a) pattern is broken by anomalous race plowesi and (b) vincenti itself remains distinctive for its dull deep blue vs dull sepia underparts; but its song and calls are identical to those of other subspecies#R. Research into genetics and ecological preferences needed in order to understand taxonomic position of each subspecies. Validity of many subspecies questionable; proposed race media (described from Deelfontein, in Northern Cape) synonymized with cinnamomea. Eleven subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • E. c. nebularum (Rudebeck, 1958) – SW Angola.
  • E. c. bradfieldi (Roberts, 1928) – N & C Namibia.
  • E. c. capensis Linnaeus, 1766 – Cape Bunting – S Namibia S to SW South Africa (Western Cape).
  • E. c. vinacea Clancey, 1963 – NE Northern Cape (South Africa).
  • E. c. cinnamomea (M. H. C. Lichtenstein, 1842) – S Northern Cape and Eastern Cape E to W Free State (South Africa).
  • E. c. reidi (Shelley, 1902) – lowlands of Lesotho and E Free State E to W Swaziland and interior of KwaZulu-Natal.
  • E. c. basutoensis (Vincent, 1950) – Lesotho highlands and adjacent E South Africa (W KwaZulu-Natal); post-breeding movement to lower elevations.
  • E. c. limpopoensis (Roberts, 1924) – SE Botswana and adjacent South Africa (North West and Limpopo Provinces).
  • E. c. smithersii (Plowes, 1951) – Chimanimani Mts, in E Zimbabwe and adjacent Mozambique.
  • E. c. plowesi (Vincent, 1950) – NE Botswana and Zimbabwe (E to Nyange, in E highlands).
  • E. c. vincenti (Lowe, 1932) – Vincent's Bunting – locally in highlands of SE Zambia, S Malawi, N Mozambique and extreme SW Tanzania.
  • Descriptive notes

    15–16 cm; 17–27 g. Male nominate race has head striped black and white, with narrow white median crownstripe; mantle and back grey-brown with prominent dark... read more


    Male song an accelerating series of cheerful notes, “chip chup chip chup chit-it wit-wee... read more


    Shrubland and grassland, usually in rocky areas. Favours dry habitats and well-drained areas in... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet includes grass and forb seeds, soft green leaves, fallen fruits, arils of Acacia cyclops, and wide diversity of invertebrates... read more


    Season May–Jan (mainly Sep–Oct) in winter-rainfall area of Western Cape; elsewhere Oct–Jun (peak Nov–Jan in most areas, Apr–May in Malawi... read more


    Largely resident; subject to local influxes in some areas. In highlands of Lesotho, race ... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Fairly common to common throughout much of its range; generally scarce in extreme NE, where absent from much seemingly suitable habitat. Density in... read more

    Recommended citation

    Ryan, P. (2019). Cape Bunting (Emberiza capensis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 11 December 2019).