[order] Passeriformes | [family] Emberizidae | [latin] Emberiza cineracea | [UK] Cinereous Bunting | [FR] Bruant cendré | [DE] Türkenammer | [ES] Escribano cinéreo | [IT] Zigolo cenerino | [NL] Smyrnagors

Smyrnagors determination

copyright: J. Gregory

Strangely featureless bunting, most resembling female or immature E. melanocephala but showing white tail-feathers. At close range, shows faint plumage pattern converging with Cretzschmar's Bunting and allies. Pale grey bill and at least faintly yellow throat crucial in identification. Sexes closely similar, little seasonal variation.

The species' requirements are imperfectly known, owing to the scarcity of data from its restricted and, until recently, largely inaccessible areas of occurrence in the south-east West Palearctic, and very poorly surveyed winter quarters. It is a summer visitor to warm temperate or Mediterranean climate scrub-covered uplands in Turkey. It breeds on dry rocky slopes, open hillsides and uplands with shrubby vegetation and sometimes as high as the conifer belt. Although initially described as a breeding bird of rocky sparsely vegetated slopes at high altitute, both races have also been found breeding on slopes with lusher vegetation at lower altitudes. The race semenowi has also been recorded breeding in sheltered valleys with orchards and small fields around Gaziantep in Turkey. In Turkey the breeding habitat ranges from c. 100-500 m (and perhaps to near sea level) in the west of the country, to c. 800-1500 m in central Turkey and to at least c. 1800 m in the east.
In the Greek islands the common breeding habitat for nominate cineracea is described as open rocky hillsides down to sea level with a low, rather sparse cover of low shrubs (on Lesvos predominantly Sarcopoterium spinosum) but it may also use areas with isolated trees, such as Pinus brutia, or taller bushes. On passage, it occurs on stony and rocky slopes/hillsides with low annual grasses and bushes, chiefly in desert uplands, with a few cultivated patches. It appears also to occur on passage in lowland deserts. In winter the Cinereous Bunting occurs in dry open country with short grass, semi-desert, low rocky hills, bare cultivated land, or shrubby areas, often in dry coastal areas

Emberiza cineracea is a summer visitor to Turkey and Greece, with Europe constituting >90% of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is small (as few as 2,600 pairs), but was stable between 1970-1990. Although the species may have declined in its Turkish stronghold during 1990-2000, it was stable in Greece and probably underwent only a small decline overall. Nevertheless, its population size still renders it susceptible to the risks affecting small populations. Consequently, this globally Near Threatened species is provisionally evaluated as Rare in Europe.
This bunting is nearly entirely restricted to Greece and Turkey. In Greece it only known from the islands Lesbos, Chios and Skyros where it inhabits dry, stony slopes covered with low phrygana. Its European population is estimated at 100-250 breeding pairs, and could be threatened by tourism development.
An uncommon inhabitant of barren relatively low-altitude montane regions in Asia Minor, the species is one of the least known Western Palearctic buntings. Cinereous Bunting is very poorly known but appears to be scarce, perhaps even threatened, because of its very limited range and relatively small population. The species was first described in 1836, having been discovered that year in the vicinity of Izmir in western Turkey.
Two subspecies are recognised: the western, white or grey-bellied race, cineracea, and the eastern yellowish-bellied race, semenowi. Nominate cineracea breeds in western Turkey approximately from Assos south-east towards the eastern-central Taurus Mountains and the fringes of the Central Plateau/Inner Anatolia as east a Gaziantep, where the two subspecies seem overlap. The range extends onto the Greek islands of Lesvos, which holds the largest population of 100-250 pairs, Chios, with probably 5-50 pairs and Skyros (fewer than five pairs). It is possible that this subspecies also occurs on other Greek islands, especially in the central-eastern Aegean, e.g. Ikaria and Samos.
In south-east Turkey, the race semenowi is found from the Gaziantep area in the west, north to Dogubayazit, east into Iran, where an apparently isolated population occurs in the Zagros Mountains in the south-west of the country. This population consists of fewer than 100 pairs. Statements in the literature that this form breeds in northern Iraq are of uncertain provenance and apparently unsubstantiated.

The feeding behaviour is little known. Data demonstrate the species to be omnivorous. During the breeding season the main food is seeds and small invertebrates such as beetles, spiders, caterpillars, flies, grasshoppers, pupae and snails, taken on the ground. During the rest of the year the diet is probably largely seeds but the species has been observed to take invertebrates during migration. In Israel, it occurs on rocky slopes and in desertic uplands with low vegetation and scrub. Recorded in grassy fields with hedgerows in the Kizilirmak delta (the northernmost record in Turkey. In winter in Eritrea, small parties forage on rocky ground with short grass.

The nominate race breeds on the islands of Chios, Lesbos, Skyros and probably Ikaria and Samos islands, Greece (100-250 pairs1), and east and south to Develi and Kilis, Turkey. E. c. semenowi occurs from the Gaziantep area of south-east Turkey to the border with Iraq (breeding unproven but possible) and west Iran (less than 100 pairs in the Zagros mountains). It is migratory, wintering in dry open country with short grass, semi-desert, low rocky hills, bare cultivated land and dry scrub, often in coastal areas, in north-east Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, south-west Saudi Arabia and Yemen2. Migrating birds are regularly recorded in lowland agricultural land and semi-deserts in Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestinian Authority Territories, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates. The sizes of historical and current populations are poorly known, but the population is currently estimated at 700-5,350 pairs with no obvious decline in numbers or range. Changes in grazing pressure by sheep and goats could affect population size. High grazing pressure could result in the trampling of nests whilst too little grazing could reduce the area of open feeding sites1. Remaining habitat in western Turkey is being rapidly developed for tourism. There is very little habitat loss in Greece1 or central and eastern Turkey. An international action plan was published in 2003 [conservation status from birdlife.org]

The races semenowi and cineracea arrive in their breeding ranges in early April and breeding usually commences during the second half of April but is perhaps later in some areas. Eggs are recorded from the second half of April to late May in western Turkey with the main hatching period being at the end of May. In eastern Turkey fresh complete clutches and young have been noted from late May. The vanguard of the Zagros population may exceptionally arrive as early as late February, and the laying period starts at the end of April. Trees, rocks, powerlines and poles are regularly used as song-posts. The nest is placed on the ground, and concealed by a rock or vegetation, on dry rocky slopes and uplands with shrubby vegetation, occasionally as high as the conifer belt, within scattered trees. It is constructed of stalks, stems, leaves and grass-heads, and lined with rootlets and hair. The nest wall is very thin where adjacent to rock but dense and well woven on the opposite side.

The Cinereous Bunting is a nocturnal migrant. Southbound migration commences in July, although juveniles sometimes remain as late as September. Generally, the species leaves its wintering grounds in February and March but semenowi has been recorded in the Zagros (Iran) as early as the end of February. According to BirdLife International's World Bird Database, the species has been recorded on migration in 18 countries in the Middle East. The species has two, well-separated migration routes. The western route passes through southern Turkey and thence via Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Egypt south along the western coast of the Red Sea to the species' wintering grounds in coastal northeastern Sudan and Eritrea. This route is used predominantly by nominate cineracea, but also by small numbers of semenowi. The eastern route, used exclusively by semenowi, follows a more easterly route around the Arabian Gulf to south-western Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The supposed wintering area of these birds is at the south-western tip of Arabia, but this is based on very few actual records and there are no such occurrences in south-central Arabia. The winter range is very poorly known and it is uncertain whether populations using the eastern and western migration routes remain separate or combine.