Cirl buntings – 25 years of recovery

Cirl bunting

The cirl bunting is a rare farmland bird whose name is derived from ‘to chirp’ in Italian, which has a distinctive call that can be heard up to 500m away. The birds don’t like to travel far when seasons change, and thrive best in winter if stubble is left after crops have been harvested.

Cirl bunting numbers declined due to loss of habitat when farming practices changed, pushing them onto the brink of extinction. After 25 years of working with the RSPB and local farmers to re-establish cirl buntings, numbers have reached approximately 1078 pairs, compared to just 118 in the 1980s.

The original RSPB Cirl Bunting Project set a goal of reaching 1000 pairs, and after 25 years the target has been beaten.

The cheerful chirp of the cirl bunting can be heard in South Devon
Perching cirl bunting in South Devon
The cheerful chirp of the cirl bunting can be heard in South Devon

With a general move towards autumn-sown cereal crops and more intensive farming, cirl buntings struggled to find food and nesting materials. Now with the help of our spring barley crop, the cirl buntings are steadily raising out of the red. 

This can be credited in part to the careful work of our National Trust rangers in managing our outdoor sites with local farmers and organisations.

" Our maritime grassland management is beneficial for these birds by providing a mosaic of differing age and structure of gorse and scrub for nesting in and large areas of open grassland for feeding on insects and seeds. "
- Lorna Sherriff

When the re-introduction programme began, many of the birds used for breeding and re-located across Devon and Cornwall were collected from our South Devon sites. As a result of these conservation efforts, the charming cirl bunting is a real success story that has bounced back from the threat of extinction.

The South Devon coastline remains a top spot for watching cirl buntings, with a number of National Trust sites like Prawle Point, Bolberry Down and Wembury making key locations to spot them.

Wildflowers at Wembury attract a wide variety of insects and birds
Wild flowers with the Mewstone in the background
Wildflowers at Wembury attract a wide variety of insects and birds