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Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea

This poorly known migratory species is classified as Near Threatened because its moderately small population is suspected to be declining as a result of the conversion and degradation of its habitats; it almost meets the requirements for listing as threatened under criterion C1. Improved information on its population size and trend may in due course lead to a reassessment of its status.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Distribution and population
This species breeds on the islands of Skyros (Hölzinger 1995), Lesbos and Chios, Greece (105-205 pairs [BirdLife International 2015]), and western Turkey (race cineracea), as well as in south-east Turkey, south-west Iran (fewer than 100 pairs in the Zagros mountains; race semenowi) (Cramp and Perrins 1994, Byers et al. 1995) and Iraq (minimum 1,000 pairs in Iraqi Kurdistan [R. Porter in litt. 2015]). Statements regarding potential breeding in northern Syria are of uncertain validity (Albayrak et al. 2003). The winter distribution remains poorly known, but includes Eritrea and Yemen, and potentially also Ethiopia, north-east Sudan and south-west Saudi Arabia (where records may solely relate to individuals on migration) (Walther et al. 2004, Walther 2006). In addition, there are passage records along the species's two, well-separated migration routes: Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestinian Authority Territories and Egypt (predominantly race cineracea); and Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Oman (race semenowi). The Turkish breeding population - which at 3,100-5,500 pairs probably constitutes over 90% of the global population - was suspected to have declined by 0-19% during 1990-2000 (BirdLife International 2004) and in 1990-2013 (BirdLife International 2015).

Population justification
The European population is estimated at 6,400-11,400 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015) and there are thought to be less than 100 pairs in Iran and a minimum of 1,000 pairs in Iraq (R. Porter in litt. 2015). The global population is therefore estimated to number 8,600-13,600 mature individuals roughly equating to 12,900-20,400 individuals in total, here placed in the band 10,000-19,999 individuals.

Trend justification
A slow to moderate overall decline is suspected, based on reported declines in Turkey (which probably holds more than 90% of the global breeding population) of 1-19% during 1990-2013 (BirdLife International 2015).

The species breeds on dry rocky slopes and uplands with shrubby vegetation and sometimes conifers. It is migratory, wintering in dry open country with short grass, semi-desert, low rocky hills, bare cultivated land and dry scrub, often in coastal areas. Migrating birds are regularly recorded in lowland agricultural land and semi-deserts.

Changes in grazing pressure by sheep and goats could affect the population size. High grazing pressure could result in the trampling of nests, whereas too little grazing could reduce the area of open feeding sites (Albayrak et al. 2003). Remaining habitat in western Turkey is being developed rapidly for tourism (Tucker and Heath 1994). Suitable habitats in south-east Turkey have been flooded by dam construction, resulting both in direct habitat loss and the relocation of displaced villagers to new, currently unpopulated areas (Albayrak et al. 2003). Construction of wind farms and mining in the species's habitats in Turkey are further threats (S. Isfendiyaroglu in litt. 2015).

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
The species is legally protected under Greek and Turkish law (Albayrak et al. 2003). One of the breeding sites on Lesbos is partially protected as a Natural Monument and Wildlife Refuge (Albayrak et al. 2003). An international action plan was published in 2003 (Albayrak et al. 2003). The species's potential winter distribution has been modelled using GIS-based techniques (Walther et al. 2004). Surveys undertaken by Nature Iraq from 2005 to 2012 have revealed that Iraqi Kurdistan is an important area for the species with 23 of 53 potential Key Biodiversity Areas surveyed containing breeding individuals (R. Porter in litt. 2015).

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed

Survey suitable habitat within the putative wintering grounds (Walther et al. 2004; Walther 2006). Develop a Species Action Plan. Develop a monitoring programme to assess population trends. Assess threats to the species and develop appropriate responses.

Albayrak, T., Gürsoy, A. and Kirwan, G.M. 2002. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.

BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

BirdLife International. 2015. European Red List of Birds. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

Byers, C.; Olsson, U.; Curson, J. 1995. Buntings and sparrows: a guide to the buntings and North American sparrows. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, U.K.

Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic vol IX: buntings and New World warblers. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Hölzinger, J. 1995. The Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea breeding on Skyros (Greece). Zoology in the Middle East 11: 31-36.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Tucker, G.M. and Heath, M.F. 1994. Birds in Europe: their conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Walther, B. A. 2006. The winter distribution and habitat use of the near-threatened Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea. Sandgrouse 28(1): 52-57.

Walther, B. A.; Wisz, M.S.; Rahbek, C. 2004. Known and predicted African winter distributions and habitat use of the endangered Basra Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis) and the near-threatened Cinereous Bunting (Emberiza cineracea). Journal of Ornithology 45: 287-299.

Further web sources of information
Detailed regional assessment and species account from the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International, 2015)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

International Action Plan

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Capper, D., Derhé, M., O'Brien, A., Pople, R. & Ashpole, J

Balkiz, O., Walther, B., Porter, R. & Isfendiyaroglu, S.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Emberiza cineracea. Downloaded from on 25/11/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 25/11/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Cinereous bunting (Emberiza cineracea) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Emberizidae (Buntings, American sparrows and allies)
Species name author Brehm, 1855
Population size 6600-11600 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 83,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment