The Pine Bunting is described as locally common in most of the range. The size of the population is unknown but the numbers are suspected to be stable.
About the hybridization with the Yellowhammer, the long-term impact of this process is still unclear.  
The Pine Bunting is not globally threatened and currently evaluated as Least Concern.

Fr: Bruant à calotte blanche
Ang: Pine Bunting
All: Fichtenammer
Esp: Escribano Cabeciblanco
Ita: Zigolo golarossa
Nd: Witkopgors
Sd: tallsparv


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Field identification of Pine Bunting by Hadoram Shirihai, David A. Christie and Alan Harris

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Pine Bunting
Emberiza leucocephalos

Passeriformes Order – Emberizidae Family

The Pine Bunting is found in C and E Asia where it breeds, but the nominate race migrates S to spend the winter in India and S China. It breeds in open woodland, forest edges and clearings, whereas during winter, it can be found in orchards and scrubby edges of cultivated fields, often near water and wet pastures.
It feeds on various invertebrates such as insects, spiders and snails, and forages mainly on the ground.
This species nests on the ground in a small depression protected by vegetation. It is known to frequently hybridize with the Yellowhammer in Urals and W Siberia where the breeding ranges overlaps, despite the differences in male plumages. The chicks show a variety of mixed characters, more conspicuous in males.
The Pine Bunting is locally common and currently not globally threatened.

Length: 16-18 cm
Weight: 19-37 g

The Pine Bunting male in breeding plumage has rufous-brown mantle with blackish streaks. The scapulars are slightly more rufous with dark streaks. Back, rump and uppertail-coverts are more uniformly rufous-brown, like the breast sides.
On the upperwing, the lesser coverts are grey-brown. The blackish-brown median coverts have very pale tips. Greater coverts and tertials are blackish with pale outer webs. Primaries and primary coverts are dark brown with narrow white edges. The tail feathers are dark brown with buffy-grey edges. The central pair shows rufous-brown edges, whereas the outermost pairs of rectrices have white webs.

On the underparts, the underwing-coverts are white. The breast is mottled rufous, and separated from the chestnut-brown throat by a contrasting white crescent. The belly is whitish whereas flanks are streaked rufous, darker at the rear. The undertail-coverts are white with indistinct narrow dark streaks.

E.l. fronto

On the head, the central crown is white with narrow, black lateral stripes. Lores, supercilium, neck sides and throat are chestnut-brown. The ear-coverts are white with narrow blackish border at the rear.
The two-tone bill is blackish-grey on upper mandible and mostly grey-horn on lower mandible, brighter along the cutting edge. The eyes are dark brown. Legs and feet may vary from pale fleshy-orange to fleshy-brown.

The non-breeding male resembles previous but with slightly obscured head pattern. The white feathers of the crown are tipped greyish-buff and the lateral stripes have grey-brown fringes. The feathers of the throat have whitish tips, and there are some dark spots on the breast. Back, rump and uppertail-coverts show conspicuous pale fringes.

The adult female resembles female Yellowhammer but she lacks the yellow tones. There is a whitish spot on the nape.
In fresh plumage, she is generally paler, with less rufous tones on supercilium, throat and underparts.

First-winter male and female are duller than adults.
The juvenile resembles first winter female but with duller tones and buffy-brown tinge, especially on the upperparts.


SUBSPECIES AND RANGE:                 
The Pine Bunting has two subspecies.
E.l. leucocephalos (described above) is found in E European Russia from C and S Ural regions, E across Siberia to Russian Far East, then S to N Kazakhstan, C and E Tien Shan, NW and NE China, N Mongolia and lower R Amur, Sakhalin and S Kuril Islands.
Most of population winters from Iran, Afghanistan and N Pakistan, E to Nepal, N China and Japan.

E.l. fronto is found in NE Qinghai, E to S Gansu in NC China.
It differs from nominate by broader black bands on the head and mainly on forehead, darker chestnut areas and slightly longer wings.

The Pine Bunting prefers forest edges and clearings in the southern part of the Siberian taiga, but it also frequents logged or burnt patches in more continuous pine or mixed forests. In steppes, it can be seen sometimes in clumps of trees.
During winter, it frequents mostly cultivated fields, waste grounds, orchards and open areas with some scrubs or trees.

The Pine Bunting’s calls resemble those of the Yellowhammer.
The song, given from tree or bush, is very similar to the song of the Yellowhammer too “ze-ze-ze-ze-ze-ze ziiiii”. It is usually impossible to make certain identification, although the song of the Pine Bunting is generally softer.   

The Pine Bunting feeds mainly on invertebrates during the breeding season, such as grasshoppers, bugs, beetles, caterpillars, flies, spiders and snails. Outside this period, it feeds mainly on seeds of cereals and grasses.
It forages mainly on the ground. During winter and on migration, it can be seen in flocks and often in small groups, although very large flocks are sometimes observed.

The Pine Bunting breeds between April and May. It nests on the ground. We can suggest that the bright head pattern of the male is enhanced by some adapted postures during the courtship displays. Both parents share most of the nesting duties.

The subspecies E.l. fronto is resident. The nominate race leaves the breeding grounds in August/September or October to migrate in flocks of several tens until November.
The return migration occurs from mid-February to early May in flocks of 30-40 individuals.
This species is vagrant in W to NW Europe, N Africa and Saudi Arabia, and also in Korea and Alaska. Some numbers are regular in winter in Camargue, SE France.

The flight is performed with rapid wingbeats interspersed with short glides.

The breeding season occurs from late April to late July. This species usually produces two broods per season.
The nest is placed on the ground in a shallow depression protected by vegetation such as bush or clump of grass. The female builds the nest, a woven cup of grass, rootlets and stalks, with a lining of soft grass and hair.

She lays 4-5 pale whitish-blue/green eggs with small dark spots and streaks. She incubates alone during 13 days but both parents feed the chicks. The young leave the nest 9 days after hatching, and fledge 1-3 days later.