Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Spain 21: Rock Bunting

Rock Bunting - male
One of the over 40 species of true (Emberiza) buntings is the Rock Bunting Emberiza cia. What actually defines a bunting is a rather complex issue, as the Emberizidae also includes New World Sparrows, Juncos, and Towhees. On the other hand, Snow and Lapland Buntings are now placed in an entirely separate family, the Calcariidae, which is closer to tanagers, cardinals, New World warblers and other species found in the Americas. Emberiza buntings are an Old World genus, with various species found from southern Africa to northern Europe and across to Asia.

Rock Bunting - female
Rock Buntings are open country birds, found in quite similar habitats to Rock Sparrows, but they prefer lower altitudes, although in Asia they may be found up to 4000m. The habitat always contains a lot of bare ground with low shrubs and grasses with an occasional tree for song posts and for breeding at least they seem to prefer irregular ground with ditches and hollows. This enables them to approach their nests without being observed.

The main diet is seeds of grasses and herbs, mostly obtained from the ground but also picked directly from seed heads. Insects are also taken in the same way or caught in flight by short sallies from the ground. When raising chicks they are mostly fed on insects and other invertebrates. Unfortunately I have not been able to locate any more detailed information on which particular invertebrates may be targeted. For example, studies of Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus in the UK showed that various Orthoptera were the main insect prey fed. Given the habitat, it is likely that grasshoppers, beetles, and spiders would be the main prey available.

There are usually two broods each year, with the breeding season starting around March. The nest is a typical cup made of grass lined with softer material such as animal hair and is built by the female. The location is usually on the ground concealed between boulders and with a view over possible approaches and there are usually 4 or 5 eggs in each clutch. Incubation is around 13 days, and fledging times are similar.

Rock Buntings experienced a decline in Europe in the 1990’s but the population has since recovered and given the vast range it is classed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

This brings an end to my survey of the key bird species seen on my trip, but we also had good views of various mammals and even a few reptiles and butterflies which I will cover next

(images from Wikipedia)

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