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Black-faced Bunting - BirdForum Opus

Breeding male, nominate subspecies
Photo © by Guy R.H. Miller
Lamma Island, Hong Kong, 9 March 2005

Alternative name: Masked Bunting

Emberiza spodocephala


Female or immature E. s. personata
Photo © by Akiko Hidaka
Kanto, Japan, February 2007

13·5–16 cm (5¼-6¼ in)
Breeding male

  • Head dark olive-grey
  • Yellow green and black markings between bill and eye
  • Upperparts brown, heavily streaked with black
  • Brown rump
  • Dark brown tail
  • Yellow-white underparts
  • Fine dark brown flank streaks
  • Pink stout bill

Female and young birds

  • Weaker head pattern
  • Olive-grey cheeks
  • Weak creamy-white supercilium
  • Underparts creamy yellow heavily streaked with dark brown.

Similar Species

Yellow Bunting has planer face and more prominent wing-bars. Reed Bunting and Pallas's Reed Bunting lack the yellow underparts and heavy pinkish bill. Winter plumage of continental populations recall Reed Bunting, but have face and sides of neck grey, also suggesting Dunnock.


The population in Japan differs markedly from the others by its yellow throat and breast. Mainland birds usually have a full gray hood.

Female or immature E. s. sordida
Photo © by Panu Ruangjan
Nam Kham Nature Reserve, Thailand, February 2007


Eastern Europe and Asia
Eastern Europe: Finland
Asia: Russia, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, Tibet, Nepal, India, eastern and western Himalayas, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong
Southeast Asia: Indochina, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand


Some authors split the Japanese population into a separate species called Masked Bunting (Emberiza personata).


Adult male E. s. personata
Photo © by AndyS56
Muroran, Japan, 14 May 2019

There are 3 subspecies[1]:

  • E. s. spodocephala:
  • E. s. personata:
  • Sakhalin and southern Kuril Island to Honshu; winters to Ryukyu Island - split as Masked Bunting by HBW[4]
  • E. s. sordida:


Reedbeds and wetland scrub. Dense undergrowth beside streams and rivers in taiga areas. Also on farmland, close to water.



They build a nest in a tree or on the ground. The clutch consists of 4-5 eggs. There is generally a second brood.


The diet consists mostly of seeds; the young are fed insects.


Immature E. s. personata
Photo © by Fatih Sam
Sakhalin Island, Russia

Northern continental population is a long-distance migrant wintering south to southern Korea, eastern and southern China and Taiwan. It is a very rare wanderer to western Europe. Southern continental population disperses widely south-west and east wintering from Bangladesh and eastern Nepal east through northern Burma to extreme north of Thailand (rare), northern Laos and northern Vietnam. Japanese population is a short-distance migrant leaving breeding grounds in northern Japan and southern Sakhalin to winter in central and southern Japan.


Call a hard tsip or jit. Song is a slow tsip-chee-tree phirr.

Listen in an external program Listen to Black-faced Bunting sound clip
Recording by Sid Francis, Jiuzaighou, Sichuan, China June 2011


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Avibase
  3. Birdforum thread with discussion and pictures of younger Black-faced Bunting
  4. del Hoyo, J., Collar, N. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Masked Bunting (Emberiza personata). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/1344137 on 3 February 2019).
  5. Copete, J.L. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Black-faced Bunting (Emberiza spodocephala). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/61896 on 3 February 2019).
  6. Wikipedia contributors. (2018, September 30). Black-faced bunting. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:57, February 3, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Black-faced_bunting&oldid=861846535
  7. Byers, C., J. Curson, and U. Olsson. 1995. Sparrows and Buntings: A Guide to the Sparrows and Buntings of North America and the World. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
  8. Päckert, M., Sun, Y.-H., Strutzenberger, P., Valchuk, O., Tietze, D.T. & Martens, J. (2015) Phylogenetic relationships of endemic bunting species (Aves, Passeriformes, Emberizidae, Emberiza) from the eastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Vert. Zool. 65(1): 135–150.
  9. Saitoh, T., Sugita, N., Someya, S., Iwami, Y., Kobayashi, S., Kamigaichi, H., Higuchi, A., Asai, S., Yamamoto, Y. & Nishiumi, I. (2015) DNA barcoding reveals 24 distinct lineages as cryptic bird species candidates in and around the Japanese Archipelago. Mol. Ecol. Res. 15(1): 177–186.
  10. Weissensteimer, M.H., Koblmüller, S. & Sefc, K.M. (2014) The Emberiza spodocephala subspecies complex: new insights into taxonomy and phylogeography. 26th International Ornithological Congress 2014, Tokyo, 18-24 Aug 2014.
  11. Brazil, M. (2018). Birds of Japan. Helm, London. ISBN 978-1-4729-1386-9

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