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Buntings are seed eaters like the finches, but have shorter bills and longer tails. They usually nest in hedgerows bordering farmland and have suffered from the efficiency of modern agriculture, which leaves little surplus for them. The greatest casualty is the corn bunting, which has declined by 76% nationally since the 1970s but rather less in Essex. Rather like a plump female house sparrow, its song is like the jangle of a bunch of keys.

The yellowhammer too has a distinctive song, singing its wheezy 'little bit of bread and no cheeeese' from prominent song positions throughout May and in the summer. The reed bunting prefers wetter sites with reeds and other tall vegetation, but it has spread into drier habitats as wetlands have disappeared. With its black head and bib, divided by a white moustache, the male is easy to recognise.

Unlike these resident species, the snow bunting is a winter visitor from its breeding areas on the high mountain tops of Scandinavia. It can be found, sometimes in small flocks, all around the Essex coastline.

© David Harrison