In the winter, flocks of yellowhammer (latin name Emberiza citrinella) form and right now, we’re lucky enough to have one such flock up at the hills and hollows overlooking the town. They gather into these flocks to feed on seeds in cereals and grassland fields. You can see them gathered in the shrubs and trees before descending down to the ground to feed in the relative safety that fifty pairs of eyes affords. The kestrel is seen hovering not so very far away but this doesn’t seem to concern them much. They are sometimes joined by other small species – I have seen chaffinches in with this small flock which numbers around 60 birds.
The yellowhammer is one of the ‘red list’ bird species in the UK – this classification is given to species which are of the highest conservation priority. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are on the brink of extinction but may mean that their population is experiencing worrying trends. The recent population decline in yellowhammer is the reason for this designation.
Starlings are a good example of why populations can appear fine whilst still being of high conservation concern. Their UK population is estimated to be around 800,000 breeding pairs but this is only around a third of their population peak in the mid 1970’s. If this trend continued, we would be down to only 270,000 by 2050. The RSPB’s website has more detail on the starling decline.