Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata


Justification of Red List Category
This bunting qualifies as Vulnerable because it has a small and declining population, probably resulting from a combination of habitat loss, pesticide use and hunting throughout its range.

Population justification
The global population is roughly estimated to be in the band c.2,500-9,999 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2001). This equates to 3,750-14,999 individuals in total, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals. National population estimates include: < c.1,000 individuals on migration and < c.1,000 wintering individuals in China; c.50-1,000 individuals on migration and < c.50 wintering individuals in Taiwan and < c.100,000 breeding pairs and < c.1,000 individuals on migration in Japan (Brazil 2009).

Trend justification
A moderate and on-going population decline is suspected to be occurring, as the species has become scarcer on its breeding grounds in Japan. Declines are likely to be occurring owing to habitat degradation and loss through agricultural intensification, as well as trapping for the cage-bird trade.

Distribution and population

Emberiza sulphurata breeds in Japan, and is thought to winter mainly in the Philippines (where its stronghold may be Ilocos Norte [D. Allen in litt. 2012]), although some birds have wintered in Japan and Taiwan (China) in the past (BirdLife International 2001). There are non-breeding records, mainly of birds on passage, from North Korea, South Korea [including records from Marado island (Kim et al. 2014)], Hong Kong (China) and the coast of mainland China and Taiwan. It is generally uncommon in its restricted breeding range in Japan, and it appears to have declined significantly during the 20th century.


It breeds from c.600-1,500 m, in deciduous and mixed forests, on wooded slopes and in high valleys, around woodland edges and in park-like areas with shrubs and thickets. It nests in bushes or on the ground. On migration, it occurs in shrubby clearings in open woodland, in low secondary growth and open cultivated land with bushes and thickets, and sometimes in open grasslands. In its wintering range, it is found in grasslands, scrub, pine forest and cultivated areas, up to 1,500 m.


Its decline has probably been a result of a combination of habitat loss, high levels of pesticide use and trapping for the bird trade.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
It is legally protected in Japan, North Korea and Hong Kong. It occurs in some National Wildlife Protection Areas in central Honshu, Japan, including Asama (Gunma and Nagano prefectures), the North Alps (Toyama, Nagano and Gifu prefectures) and Katano Duck Pond (Ishikawa prefecture). Some of its breeding and staging grounds are also protected as prefecture protection areas, such as Nikko (Tochigi prefecture), Myoko-san (Niigata prefecture), Nojiri-ko (Nagano prefecture), Matsunaga-wan (Hiroshima prefecture) and Kakara-jima (Saga prefecture).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Research the status of its breeding population and carry out surveys to establish its main wintering area. Coordinate a study of the decline and conservation requirements of migratory passerines in Asia. Ensure it is legally protected across its entire range. Study its habitat requirements during winter and make land management recommendations (D. Allen in litt. 2012). Assess the level of threat posed by nocturnal trapping during migration (D. Allen in litt. 2012).


14 cm. Olive-green and yellow bunting. Black lores. Greenish-yellow crown, sides of head and hindneck. Olive-green mantle streaked with black. Olive-grey lower back, rump and uppertail-coverts. Lemon-yellow underparts becoming paler on belly and green and streaked on flanks. White tips to median and greater coverts form double wing-bar.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Gilroy, J., Taylor, J., North, A.

Allen, D.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Emberiza sulphurata. Downloaded from on 25/06/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 25/06/2022.