Justification of Red List Category
This poorly known migratory species is classified as Near Threatened because its moderately small population is suspected to be declining as a result of the conversion and degradation of its habitats; it almost meets the requirements for listing as threatened under criterion C1. Improved information on its population size and trend may in due course lead to a reassessment of its status.
The European population is estimated at 6,400-11,400 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015) and there are thought to be less than 100 pairs in Iran and a minimum of 1,000 pairs in Iraq (R. Porter in litt. 2015). The global population is therefore estimated to number 8,600-13,600 mature individuals roughly equating to 12,900-20,400 individuals in total, here placed in the band 10,000-19,999 individuals.
A slow to moderate overall decline is suspected, based on reported declines in Turkey (which holds the majority of the global breeding population) of 1-19% during 1990-2013 (BirdLife International 2015).
This species breeds on the islands of Skyros (Hölzinger 1995), Lesbos and Chios, Greece (105-205 pairs [BirdLife International 2015]), and western Turkey (race cineracea), as well as in south-east Turkey (where it can be abundant in some specific habitats [A. Staneva in litt. 2016]), south-west Iran (fewer than 100 pairs in the Zagros mountains; race semenowi) (Cramp and Perrins 1994, Byers et al. 1995, Kirwan et al. 2008) and Iraq (minimum 1,000 pairs in Iraqi Kurdistan [R. Porter in litt. 2015]) (Porter and Aspinall 2010). Statements regarding potential breeding in northern Syria are of uncertain validity (Albayrak et al. 2003). The winter distribution remains poorly known, but includes Eritrea and Yemen, and potentially also Ethiopia, north-east Sudan and south-west Saudi Arabia (where records may solely relate to individuals on migration) (Walther et al. 2004, Walther 2006). In addition, there are passage records along the species's two, well-separated migration routes: Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestinian Authority Territories and Egypt (predominantly race cineracea); and Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Oman (race semenowi). The Turkish breeding population - which at 3,100-5,500 pairs constitutes the great majority of the global population - was suspected to have declined by 0-19% during 1990-2000 (BirdLife International 2004) and in 1990-2013 (BirdLife International 2015).
The species breeds on dry rocky slopes and uplands with shrubby vegetation and sometimes conifers. It is migratory, wintering in dry open country with short grass, semi-desert, low rocky hills, bare cultivated land and dry scrub, often in coastal areas. Migrating birds are regularly recorded in lowland agricultural land and semi-deserts.
Changes in grazing pressure by sheep and goats could affect the population size. High grazing pressure could result in the trampling of nests, whereas too little grazing could reduce the area of open feeding sites (Albayrak et al. 2003). Remaining habitat in western Turkey is being developed rapidly for tourism (Tucker and Heath 1994). Suitable habitats in south-east Turkey have been flooded by dam construction, resulting both in direct habitat loss and the relocation of displaced villagers to new, currently unpopulated areas (Albayrak et al. 2003). Construction of wind farms and mining in the species's habitats in Turkey are further threats (S. Isfendiyaroglu in litt. 2015).
Conservation and Research Actions Underway
The species is legally protected under Greek and Turkish law (Albayrak et al. 2003). One of the breeding sites on Lesbos is partially protected as a Natural Monument and Wildlife Refuge (Albayrak et al. 2003). An international action plan was published in 2003 (Albayrak et al. 2003). The species's potential winter distribution has been modelled using GIS-based techniques (Walther et al. 2004). Surveys undertaken by Nature Iraq from 2005 to 2012 have revealed that Iraqi Kurdistan is an important area for the species with 23 of 53 potential Key Biodiversity Areas surveyed containing breeding individuals (R. Porter in litt. 2015).
Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Survey suitable habitat within the putative wintering grounds (Walther et al. 2004; Walther 2006). Develop a Species Action Plan. Develop a monitoring programme to assess population trends. Assess threats to the species and develop appropriate responses.
Text account compilers
Westrip, J., Capper, D., Pople, R., O'Brien, A., Ashpole, J, Derhé, M.
Porter, R., Staneva, A., Walther, B., Isfendiyaroglu, S., Balkiz, O.
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Emberiza cineracea. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 17/01/2019. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2019) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 17/01/2019.