Changes to the British List (18 June 2024)

The British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee (BOURC) has changed the category of a species on the British List.

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The following species has been moved from Category D to Category A of the British List:

Red-headed Bunting Emberiza bruniceps
One, male, first-calendar-year, Housay, Out Skerries, Shetland, 2-8 October 2010.

Photo (right): Red-headed Bunting © Michael McKee

This Red-headed Bunting Emberiza bruniceps was identified in the field as the congeneric Black-headed Bunting E. melanocephala and accepted as such by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) in their Report on Rare Birds in Great Britain in 2010 (Brit. Birds 104: 557–629). Later, the Norwegian Rarities Committee (NSKF) undertook a review of the status of Red-headed Bunting in Norway and, using plumage characteristics elucidated by Tor Olsen and confirmation from genetic evidence, demonstrated that Red-headed Bunting had occurred in Norway in October 2017. Tor, whilst undertaking his research, noticed that the bunting on Shetland in 2010 was actually a 1CY male Red-headed Bunting and not a 2CY+ female Black-headed Bunting. This reidentification was later independently supported by an analysis of sound recordings of flight calls, and on review by BBRC the identification as Red-headed Bunting was accepted unanimously.

Red-headed Bunting is a migratory Central Asian grassland species with a range and migration pattern similar to other taxa already on the British List such as Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach, Sykes’s Warbler Iduna rama, and ‘Masked Wagtail’ Motacilla alba personata. However, unlike those species, Red-headed Bunting is also on Category E of the British List with a long history of escaped individuals in Britain as it was previously held commonly as a cagebird. Many known escaped Red-headed Buntings have occurred in spring at migration traps and this precluded the determination of the occurrence of genuine wild vagrants in Britain (Brit. Birds 61: 41-43).

Previously, Red-headed Bunting was added to the British List based on an 2CY+ male on North Ronaldsay, Orkney, on 19 June 1931 (Brit. Birds 25: 66-69) but following a BOURC species review in 1971 it was moved to Category D of the British List at which time it was considered that most, if not all, of the numerous records here were escaped cagebirds (Ibis 113: 420-423). In 2010 later records of Red-headed Bunting were reviewed by BOURC and the species was retained on Category D (Ibis 152: 199-204). At this time Keith Vinicombe demonstrated a correlation between the cessation of the legal importation of Red-headed Buntings to Europe and an immediate decline in records of the species in Britain, and this interplay has continued with just two reports of Red-headed Bunting in Britain since 2010 (Brit. Birds 100: 540-551).

Red-headed Bunting is still listed as held in captivity in northwest Europe, and the last proven escape was in April 2014 in the Netherlands (Tor Olsen in litt.). That the 2010 Shetland record was a 1CY in autumn at a location which regularly hosts Asian vagrants resulted in it unanimously considered to be wild by BOURC.

It should be placed after Black-headed Bunting on the British List.

Red-headed Bunting breeds in Central Asia, southwest and south-central Russia, southwest Mongolia, northwest China, northeast Iran, Pakistan, and is migratory wintering in India (IOC World Bird List (v 14.1)).

This change will be published as part of the BOURC’s 57th report due to be published in Ibis in January 2025. Upon publication of this change, the British List stands at 635 species (Category A = 617; Category B = 8; Category C = 10).

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