Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus


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). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable 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 4,060,000-7,020,000 pairs, which equates to 8,130,000-14,000,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms c.35% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 23,000,000-40,000,000  mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed.

Trend justification
In Europe, trends between 1980 and 2013 show that populations have undergone a moderate decline (EBCC 2015).


Generally this species inhabits marshy areas with dense low vegetation types in (small) wetlands, such as fens, bogs, reed marshes, riversides and other inland waters. In Siberia it breeds in willow thickets in floodplains. In some regions the species has colonised drier habitats such as young woodland and farmland (maize, cereals and oil-seed rape fields) (Hagemeijer and Blair 1997, Copete and Christie 2016). Oil-seed rape fields have even become the most important breeding habitat for the species in lowland Britain (Gruar et al. 2006). The breeding season starts in early April and ends in August, depending on latitude and altitude. The species is mostly monogamous. The nest is built by the female, mostly on the ground, but sometimes in shrubs. The clutch, usually four or five eggs is incubated by both sexes. The chicks hatch after 12–15 days. They are fed by both parents and leave the nest after 9–12 days. The diet consists mainly of invertebrates during the breeding season and mainly seeds and other plant material at other times of the year. Birds in the south of the range are resident or make short distance movements whilst northern populations are almost entirely migratory (Copete and Christie 2016).


Agricultural intensification is considered the main cause of the decline of the species in Europe and especially the endangered subspecies E. s. witherbyi and E. s. lusitanica (Vera et al. 2014). In particular the availability of winter food in farmland has declined as a consequence of crop change and the use of herbicides, resulting in the disappearance of weed-rich stubbles, and the use of advanced technologies reducing the amount of spilled grain (Peach et al. 1999, Orlowski and Czarnecka 2007). In addition the destruction of wetlands and unfavourable management (e.g. intensive reed cutting) is another important threat to the species, including the endangered subspecies E. s. witherbyi and E. s. lusitanica (Vera et al. 2014).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The Mediterranean subspecies (E. s. witherbyi) and the north-western Iberian subspecies (E. s. lusitanica) are classified as Endangered in the Spanish Red List (Atienza and Copete 2014). The species has been moved from the Red to the Amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern in Britain (Eaton et al. 2009).

Conservation Actions Proposed
The following information has been proposed for the species's European range: Implement marsh bird-friendly management of wetlands, for example avoid complete mowing or burning of older reed beds (Pasinelli and Schiegg 2012, Vera et al. 2014). Wintering habitat should be improved by preserving stubble fields. In addition the presence of heavily overgrown root crop and vegetable stubbles should be allowed to ensure the spontaneous regeneration of plant cover on fallows. These objectives should be promoted as part of agri-environmental schemes or within set-aside land options (Orłowski and Czarnecka 2007).

Special attention should be paid to safeguard the small remaining populations of the endangered subspecies E. s. witherbyi and E. s. lusitanica by conducting annual censuses of the subspecies's population numbers, protecting all wetlands where it still occurs and conducting research on its taxonomy and ecology, in particular the species habitat requirements and pressures limiting the population. Other measures include compiling a national subspecies action plan; promoting extensive agricultural practices in areas surrounding the species's habitat in particular with regard to the use of insecticides; and maintaining fallow and stubble fields near its breeding areas as wintering feeding habitat (Atienza and Copete 2014).


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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Emberiza schoeniclus. Downloaded from on 11/12/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 11/12/2023.