Reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

Male Reed buntings are relatively easy-to-identify, similar in size to House sparrows, albeit with striking black caps and dark, drooping moustaches. Female Reed buntings, in contrast, are lighter brown in colour, and do not display the black cap so typical of the male. Whereas males have a much brighter white underside, females are more uniform brown. Both sexes have brown and black streaked backs with long tails. You can see the difference between the two in the comparison images below.

The Reed bunting bill is sturdy and strong, ideal for breaking open and consuming seeds, although it is still quite small. In fact, it would be easy to categorise these birds as a type of Fringillidae (i.e. Finch), although most modern authors classify them as Warblers.

They are resident all year round in the UK, apart from the northernmost parts of mainland Scotland where they are just summer visitors, and there is a small isolated pocket of Scotland just below Inverness and most of the Cairgorms National Park that do not receive any visits from Reed buntings.

Reed bunting sightings: where to see one

It may be possible to spot a Reed bunting in the garden, but usually only in winter or late spring; some birds will migrate to Scandinavia, but most will remain resident. If you are lucky enough to observe a Reed bunting in your garden, it is most likely to be a rural garden rather than a garden in a more built up urban area. As bird that prefer to live close to home, they don’t travel far.

Official BTO report rate chart of the Reed bunting

BTO report rate chart – Reed bunting

Reed buntings are seen primarily in two different locations throughout the year: wetland and dryer garden and farmland areas. The chart below, from BTO, displays the common fluctuations throughout the year of Reed bunting observations in wetland and dry gardens and/or farmland areas. From the end of summer, as food resources such as wild seed become scarce, there is a noticeable increase in Reed buntings visiting gardens and farmlands. Come breeding season, Reed buntings tend to favour their preferred nesting sites located among bed and reeds in wetland regions. Should you wish to observe a Reed bunting between Nov and May, you will need to get and about in wetland.

Reed bunting nesting behaviour

Reed buntings prefer to nest in reed beds or wet and marshy areas, although they may sometimes nest in dryer places such as grassy sand dunes and cultivated land in and among farm hedgerows. They do so in large numbers, and gather together for safety and protection, helping them to stay clear of prying predators at night time. They nest low down in and among vegetation, and eggs are usually laid in early May.

A Reed bunting among reeds in a wetland area

Reed bunting nestled among reeds

What do Reed buntings eat?

Reed buntings eat one of two types of food at different times of the year. Through the breeding and summer periods, it is mainly insectivorous foods; for the remaining part of the year i.e. late summer, though autumn and winter, it is, generally, wild seeds.

It is therefore advisable to put out a variety of seed and/or seed mixes over the winter period, as Reed buntings can be vulnerable to short seed supply over cold and harsh months. Bear in mind that most Reed buntings do not travel far, and since they reside mainly in rural areas, they are highly likely to be seen in rural gardens away from densely populated towns and cities.

Interactive Reed bunting

Male vs female Reed buntings

Male Reed bunting

Male Reed bunting

Female Reed bunting

Female Reed bunting

Attract Reed buntings with the following food

Ultiva® Gold

This hugely popular bird seed mix has been at the forefront of GardenBird for many years. A top seller, the inspiration came from a missing link in the bird food chain – a blend focused on oil-rich ingredients.

Dried Wild Bird Mealworms

Dried mealworms are the perfect nutritional food for your garden birds. Ideal for attracting species such as Blue tits, Starlings and Blackbirds, dried mealworms can be soaked in water over night for an extra juicy treat for your birds.

Wild Bird Sunflower Hearts

These highly nutritious and oil-rich sunflower hearts for wild birds come without the husks of complete sunflower seeds. Specially treated to prevent any extraneous growth in the garden, sunflower hearts are a sure favourite among many different garden bird species.

Ultiva® Finest Blend Wild Bird Seed Mix

A major concern with many bird seed mixes is extraneous growth as a consequence of fallen seeds. Ultiva® Finest Blend answers this concern with a superb blend of premium ‘no grow’ ingredients, including sunflower hearts, finely chopped dari and millet.