Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)



Yellowhammers © Ray Scally

Yellowhammers © Ray Scally

The winter map for Yellowhammers is much the same as their breeding distribution, as would be expected for this sedentary species. The median distance moved, at any time of year, is less than 1 km, and only 5% of birds move more than 25 km (Migration Atlas). There were 222 tetrads with Yellowhammers present in the breeding and winter seasons, 21 occupied in winter only and 149 with breeding season presence only, the latter especially across the agricultural southern half of the county.

The reduction in the number of occupied tetrads in winter is probably because they tend to gather into flocks in winter, often with other farmland seed-eaters. Most groups of Yellowhammers are small, however, numbered in single figures. During this Atlas the largest flock was of more than 100 birds in newly-planted woodland at Eddisbury Hill, Delamere (SJ56P), recorded in winter 2005/ 06 and 2006/ 07 by Peter and Michael Twist, and fieldworkers noted that several stubble fields held flocks of 70-80 Yellowhammers, at Grappenhall (SJ68I), Buerton (SJ64W) and the Weston area (SJ75F and SJ75K). They often roost communally overnight, with gorse a favoured location, although only one roost was reported in this Atlas survey, 6 birds at Woolston on 14 February 2005.

Analysis of the winter habitat codes shows that this is one of the small passerines most likely to be found in stubble. Some also exploited set-aside fields and seed crops planted for birds under Environmental Stewardship options. Most habitat records included a ‘hedge’ code, 88 ‘tall’ hedges and 50 ‘short’ hedges. Detailed study has shown that the quality of the winter habitat strongly determines where birds locate territories in summer (Whittingham et al 2005).

Coward & Oldham (1900) called the Yellowhammer ‘one of the most familiar of our Cheshire birds’. In their time it was ‘plentiful everywhere in the lowlands, and on the Hills up to the edge of the moors. In winter it frequents stubbles and farmyards in company with Chaffinches and sparrows, being as much in evidence at that season as in summer’. Boyd (1951) knew them as ‘abundant at all seasons especially on arable farms’, and Bell (1962) repeated Coward’s assessment, and made no comment on the species in his supplement (1967), so we can deduce that their status remained stable for much of the 20th century.

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