Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala


Justification of Red List category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend is not known, but the population is not believed to be decreasing sufficiently rapidly to approach the thresholds under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Population justification
In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 2,470,000-8,160,000 pairs, which equates to 4,930,000-16,300,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms c.65% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 7,500,000-25,100,000 mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed.

Trend justification
In Europe the overall trend from 1980 to 2011 was uncertain (EBCC 2015).


This species breeds in open rather dry terrain with scattered trees, shrubs and hedges. It favours low-intensity farmland with cornfields or vineyards or olive groves, but also more natural habitats such as mountain slopes with scrub vegetation. It can occur op to 2,100 m Asl (Hagemeijer and Blair 1997, Copete 2016). The species returns to the breeding grounds in May and starts nesting from mid-May with a peak in June. The nest, built by the female, is placed in shrubs. The clutch, usually four to five eggs, is incubated by the female. The chicks hatch after 13–14 days. The nestling period is 14–16 days. The species leaves the breeding grounds in late June to early August (Hagemeijer and Blair 1997, Copete 2016). During the breeding season they mainly feed on invertebrates and to a lesser extent on seeds and other plant materials. The species is migratory, with most birds wintering in western India (Copete 2016).


The population underwent a strong decline in Europe between 1970 and 1990 (BirdLife International 2004). It is likely that the long-term decline is related to changes in agricultural practices and the removal of hedges and shrubs in parts of its range, heavy pesticide use and changes in land-use: replacement of olive groves by maize fields and cornfields by commercial fruit-growing (Hagemeijer and Blair 1997, Copete 2016).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The species is classified as Near Threatened in the Italian Red List Data Book (Peronace 2011).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Maintain crop mosaic farmland in the species's breeding areas (Brambilla 2015). Investigate whether an additional breeding population exists in east and south-east Asia (Copete 2016).


Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Symes, A., Ashpole, J

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Emberiza melanocephala. Downloaded from on 01/03/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 01/03/2024.