Family Old World Buntings (Emberizidae)

Least Concern

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)


French: Bruant jaune German: Goldammer Spanish: Escribano cerillo

Emberiza Citrinella


, 1758,



Sometimes considered conspecific with E. leucocephalos, but clear differences in plumage, as well as in behaviour and osteology, support treatment as separate species. The two hybridize extensively in W & C Siberia (across c. 3000 km in taiga and forest-steppe zone from R Ural E to L Baikal), and intensity of interbreeding is increasing, since each species is expanding its breeding range across/towards that of the other; this type of interbreeding has been described as intermediate between occasional hybridization (not influencing gene pools of parent species) and introgressive hybridization (resulting sometimes in local fusion of species). An independent analysis of phylogeny supports recognition of two independent species, although cytochrome b sequences very similar, giving strong indication that they are sister-species; sharing of haplotypes even in very distant locations seems to be result of introgression of mtDNA. Independent alternative study also argues that both species are older than their closest relatives and that mtDNA has recently introgressed between them, likely as result of selective sweep. Has been suggested that race erythrogenys is product of hybridization with E. leucocephalos. Nominate race intergrades with erythrogenys in broad zone from Baltic republics, W European Russia and W Belarus S to E Hungary, E & S Balkans and Greece. Three subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • E. c. caliginosa Clancey, 1940 – Ireland, I of Man and Britain (S to Wales and N & W England).
  • E. c. citrinella Linnaeus, 1758 – Fennoscandia (S from c. 70° N) and SE England S to N Iberia, S France and Italy and E to extreme NW European Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Balkans.
  • E. c. erythrogenys C. L. Brehm, 1855 – E Europe (from European Russia, C Ukraine and Balkans) E to SC Siberia (Irkutsk) and NC Mongolia (R Selenge), and to c. 64° N, also isolated population in E Black Sea coast region and Caucasus; some migrate S to Turkey, Levant, Iraq, Iran and C Asia, a few to N Italy.
  • Introduced in New Zealand region.

    Descriptive notes

    16–16·5 cm; 20–36·5 g. Rather large bunting. Male nominate race in fresh plumage (Sept–Nov) has yellow head with broad black and olive lateral... read more


    Song, generally from top of tree, bush or wire, consists usually of a rather constant series of 5... read more


    Breeds mainly in open woodlands, scrub, heathland, cultivations and similar habitats, also riparian... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mostly seeds; during breeding season, at least, also invertebrates. Recorded foods include seeds and other parts of spruce (Picea... read more


    Normally begins in Apr, later at higher latitudes, with late broods started in Sept; most first broods started May in W & C Europe;... read more


    Sedentary and partially migratory. Only extreme N part of range completely vacated during winter.... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Locally common to very common; scarce in some areas. Introduced in New Zealand between 1862 and early 1870s, and now widespread and... read more

    Recommended citation

    Copete, J.L. (2020). Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella). 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 22 January 2020).