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Reed Bunting

A once common species now declining and usually only seen in and around reed beds

Photograph by: 
Ian Ballam

The reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) has earned its common name through being primarily associated with reed beds and other wet habitats such as river and lake margins and coastal marshes. Whilst this is true it is mainly in the breeding season they are found in these habitats where insects are usually lavishly available for their offspring but out of the breeding season they can be encountered almost anywhere other than in urban situations. They are a resident Dorset species and not known for extensive movements although winter populations here are undoubtedly bolstered by arrivals from further north. They were once common in stubble fields on farmland but the coming of winter wheat in the 1970s saw an end to stubble and consequently the reed bunting has declined somewhat since those days.

Being resident in Dorset the weekly reporting chart shows records for most weeks of the year with just the odd week in mid summer seeing no reports at all. In general reports are never really numerous but there is undoubtedly an upward surge in reports in October as winter nears and birds from the north start arriving and possibly moving through. This seems more marked in the autumn of 2018 compared to 2017 but that may just be down to vagrancies in the nature of tweeted sightings.

So far there are records from forty four sites in Dorset in the Nature of Dorset database with well watched sites around Poole Harbour producing the most sightings, especially Holton Lee and Lytchett Bay at the extreme west end of the harbour where reed beds are most common. The distribution map shows a general tendency for records to come from coastal areas where reed beds are most frequently found but there are records from further inland too, often where there are lakes or slow moving rivers.

A visit to any site with a reed bed should reward you with a reed bunting for your Dorset list providing you have some patience!


Common Name Reed Bunting
Scientific Name Emberiza schoeniclus
Species Group Birds Finches and Buntings
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

A bit of a 'sparrow' look-a-like near rivers and reed beds

Identification Notes
  • The black head and white collar mark it out from other species
  • Although associated with rivers and reed beds they can be found almost anywhere in winter, often in flocks
  • The female lacks the black head but is otherwise similar to the male 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Finches and Buntings