Sparrows to Buntings

Italian Sparrow Passer italiae

The taxonomic position of Italian Sparrow has been long debated. It has at times been regarded as an invalid taxon (a hybrid population between House and Spanish Sparrow), as a subspecies of either House Sparrow or Spanish Sparrow or as a distinct species, albeit one which has arisen through hybridisation. The latter stance is adopted by BOURC. Ongoing hybridisation between Italian and House Sparrows is documented in a narrow zone in northern Italy but in southern Italy Italian and Spanish Sparrows are reported to breed sympatrically (Fulgione & Rippa 2012; Hermansen et al. 2011; Lockley 1992; Töpfer 2006).

Whatever the taxonomy, Italian Sparrow poses identification problems. Whilst straightforward to identify in its core home range, hybridisation with House Sparrow in northern Italy clouds the issue whilst sparrows in southern Italy and North Africa show mixed characters of House and Spanish Sparrow and might therefore also resemble Italian Sparrow.

Italian Sparrow is, however, reported to be largely sedentary. As a consequence, the likelihood of an apparent Italian Sparrow in Britain being a genuine vagrant is low whilst the likelihood of it being a House x Spanish Sparrow hybrid is relatively high. Such a hybrid could originate from the Mediterranean region but could also occur after vagrancy to Britain by a Spanish Sparrow. A House x Tree Sparrow hybrid might also resemble Italian Sparrow.

Note also that even if the hybrid origin theory for Italian Sparrow is correct, a pre- or post-vagrancy House x Spanish Sparrow hybrid would still be regarded as a hybrid House x Spanish Sparrow, not as an Italian Sparrow. An ‘acceptable’ Italian Sparrow would have to be the offspring of two ‘pure’ Italian Sparrows.

Given such a taxonomic and identification morass, it is clear that an Italian Sparrow would be doubtfully identifiable in a British vagrant context though detailed DNA analysis may offer some insight. Observers are nevertheless encouraged to document the appearance of any Italian Sparrow-like birds and should if possible seek to obtain feather or faecal material for genetic analysis.


BOU. (2015). Taxonomic recommendations for western Palaearctic birds. Ibis 157, 193-200.

Fulgione, D & Rippa, D. 2012. The Tangled Evolution of Italian Sparrow. International Journal of Evolution 1:2.

Hermansen, J. S., Haas, F., Trier, C. N., Bailey, R. I., Nederbragt, A. J., Marzal, A. & Saetre, G. P. 2014. Hybrid speciation through sorting of parental incompatibilities in Italian sparrows. Molecular Ecology 23: 5831-5842.

Lockley, A. K. 1992. The position of the hybrid zone between the House Sparrow Passer domesticus and the Italian Sparrow P. d. italiae in the Alpes Martimes. J. Ornithol. 133:77-82.

Töpfer, T. 2006. The taxonomic status of the Italian Sparrow Passer italiae (Vieillot 1817): Speciation by stabilised hybridisation? A critical analysis. Zootaxa, 67-68.


Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava

The taxonomy of the Yellow Wagtail is notoriously complex, with at least thirteen subspecies typically described – nominate flava (‘Blue-headed Wagtail’) in central Europe and western Russia, flavissima (‘British Yellow Wagtail’) in Britain, north-west France, Belgium and the Netherlands, thunbergi (‘Grey-headed Wagtail’) in Scandinavia and north European Russia, iberiae (‘Spanish Wagtail’) in southern France, Iberia and north-west Africa, cinereocpailla (‘Ashy-headed Wagtail’) in Sardinia, Italy and Sicily, feldegg (‘Black-headed Wagtail’) in south-east Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran and south Central Asia, pygmaea (‘Egyptian Wagtail’) in Egypt, beema (‘Sykes’s Wagtail’) in northern Kazakhstan and southern Russia, leucocephala (‘White-headed Wagtail’) in western Mongolia, lutea (‘Yellow-headed Wagtail’) in southern Russia, plexa in northern Russia, tschutschensis in north-east Russia and northern and western Alaska, taivana in the Russian Far East and Sakhalin and macronyx in northern China and south-east Russia.

This taxonomy is far from settled, however, and there is no consensus on the number of subspecies recognised. For example, some authors advocate a number of other eastern subspecies (e.g. simillima, angarensis and zaissanensis) whilst others aggregate cinereocapilla, iberiae and pygmaea as ‘Southern Wagtail’ or ‘White-throated Wagtail’ M. cinereocapilla. Each subspecies is individually variable and there is extensive intergradation involving most, sometimes producing intergrades of relatively consistent appearance, for example ‘Channel Wagtail’ (flava x flavissima) and others. Occasional variant examples of one subspecies resembling another geographically distant subspecies may also occur, whilst hybridisation between Yellow and Citrine Wagtail M. citreola is also well-established.

Significant genetic divides exist between some subspecies. The potential for at least a two-way split into ‘Western Yellow Wagtail’ and ‘Eastern Yellow Wagtail’ was therefore identified (but not formally proposed) by Alström & Mild (2003) whilst Pavlova et al. (2003) identified three clades covering a) Europe and south-west Asia, b) north-east Asia and c) east Asia. However, any such split would not be ‘clean’, for plexa (an ‘eastern’ subspecies based on genetic analysis) appears indistinguishable in morphology from thunbergi (a ‘western’ subspecies). Unsurprisingly, authors differ in their treatment of the complex, with rival interpretations suggesting one, two, three or multiple species.

The susbpecies flavissima is a common summer visitor to Britain, whilst nominate flava and thunbergi are scarce migrants. The subspecies feldegg and cinereocapilla are rare vagrants. The Central Asian forms leucocephala and beema were formerly on the British List but have now been removed, considered to be flava variants or intergrades (Kehoe 2006), whilst birds resembling lutea have also been recorded but are generally considered to be variant flavissima. Birds resembling iberiae have also been noted but this susbpecies has not been admitted to the British List. The subspecies simillima was previously on the British List on the basis of specimen records from Fair Isle in October 1909 and September 1912. These specimens were recently DNA-tested, the latter bird proving to be ‘western’ in origin. The former was, however, confirmed to be ‘north-east Asian’ although it could not be assigned to a particular subspecies. The subspecies simillima was therefore removed from the British List but the 1909 Fair Isle bird is recorded in the BOU 8th Checklist as belonging to “one of the eastern subspecies, probably plexa, tschutschensis or simillima” (BOU 2012). Two further east Asian birds have now been accepted as “simillima/plexa/tschutschensis/taivana/ macronyx” (Hudson et al. 2014).

The identification of most vagrant subspecies is not straightforward and, for the most part, only feasible with males, especially adults in spring. Of those most likely to occur in spring, male feldegg is striking but needs to be distinguished both from ‘black-headed’ thunbergi and from feldegg x flava/beema intergrades. The latter may be difficult to detect, showing, for example, only limited pale flecking in the supercilium or white in the throat-sides. Female feldegg can also be relatively distinctive. Male iberiae is somewhat variable and needs to be distinguished from at least white-throated first-summer male flava and from iberiae x flava and iberiae x cinereocapilla intergrades. The subspecies cinereocapilla is also somewhat variable and needs to be distinguished from at least white-throated first-summer male thunbergi and from cinereocapilla x flava and cinereocapilla x iberiae intergrades. Observers of a potential iberiae or cinereocapilla should focus on the precise supercilium, ear covert/eye-ring and throat patterns and, perhaps most importantly, the call.

Females and first-winters of vagrant subspecies pose even greater problems. In the latter case, observers should focus on overall plumage hues. Birds with a ‘cold’, ‘grey and white’ appearance reminiscent of Citrine Wagtail may be eastern in origin but there is also a cline of increasing grey and white plumage from west to east in the western subspecies. Vocal clues are most important. In particular, harsh or buzzing calls indicate a bird with either a southern or eastern origin (though both southern and eastern birds can also give softer calls). Sound recordings would be particularly useful whilst trapped birds should have any stray feathers retained for DNA analysis.

Claims of any vagrant subspecies are welcomed but, given the complexities involved, BBRC has little option but to adopt a cautious approach. Claims of male (and even some female) feldegg might be acceptable if accompanied by detailed notes including on vocalisations (or sound recordings) although good photographs would be highly desirable. Claims of male iberiae and cinereocapilla should be accompanied by detailed notes, including notes on vocalisations (or sound recordings) and, preferably, by good photographs. If not attributable definitively to either subspecies, a bird might still prove acceptable as ‘iberiae/cinereocapilla’. Claims of these subspecies in other plumages, and claims of any other vagrant ‘Western Yellow Wagtail’ subspecies in any plumage, should be accompanied by a ringing recovery.

Claims of ‘Eastern Yellow Wagtails’ should be accompanied by a sound recording, a ringing recovery or DNA evidence. Claims based on sound recordings might be acceptable to a broad ‘Eastern Yellow Wagtail’ simillima/plexa/tschutschensis/taivana/macronyx subspecies group whilst those confirmed by a ringing recovery or DNA analysis can potentially be published to the level of ‘North-east Asian Yellow Wagtail’ (i.e. simillima/plexa/tschutschensis subspecies group) or ‘South-east Asian Yellow Wagtail’ (i.e. taivana/macronyx subspecies group). (updated March 2015 AMS).


Alström, P. & Mild, K. 2003. Pipits and Wagtails.Helm, London

BOU. 2012. BOURC 41st Report. Ibis 155: 204-207.

Corso, A. 2001. Head pattern variation in Black-headed Wagtail. Birding World 14: 162-166.

Cramp, S. et al. 1988. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 5. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Dubois, P. 2001. Head pattern of Black-headed Wagtail. Birding World 14: 388.

Hudson, N. & the Rarities Committee. 2014. Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2013. British Birds 107: 579-653.

Kehoe, C. 2006. Racial identification and assessment in Britain. British Birds 99: 618-645.

Ödeen, A. & Blörklund, M. 2003. Dynamics in the evolution of sexual traits: losses and gains, radiation and convergence in yellow wagtails (Motacilla flava). Molecular Ecology 12: 2113-2130.

Pavlova, A., Zink, R.M., Drovetski, S.V., Red’kin, Y., & Rohwer, S. 2003. Phylogeographic patterns in Motacilla flava and Motacilla citreola: Species limits and population history. The Auk 120:744-758.

Rowlands, A. 2003. From the Rarities Committee’s files: ‘Black-headed Wagtail’ in Essex in 1999 – a suspected feldegg intergrade. British Birds 96: 291-296.

Schweizer, M. 2005. Hybridization between Blue-headed Wagtail and Ashy-headed Wagtail in Switzerland. Dutch Birding 27: 235-241.

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. Privately published, Stockholm.

Van den Berg, A, M. & Oreel, G. J. 1985. Field identification and status of black-headed Yellow Wagtails in western Europe. British Birds 78: 176-183.

Winters, R. 2006. Head pattern of yellow wagtails in the Netherlands. Dutch Birding 28: 232-234.


White Wagtail Motacilla alba

White Wagtail comprises at least nine subspecies – yarrellii (‘Pied Wagtail’) in Britain and Ireland, nominate alba (‘White Wagtail’) in Europe (apart from Britain and Ireland), western and central Russia and south-west Asia, subpersonata (‘Moroccan Wagtail’) in Morocco, ocularis (‘East Siberian Wagtail’) in north-east Russia and westernmost Alaska, personata (‘Masked Wagtail’) in southern Central Asia, baicalensis (‘Baikal Wagtail’) in southern Siberia and northern Mongolia, leucopsis (‘Amur Wagtail’) in Mongolia, north and east China and Korea, alboides (‘Himalayan Wagtail’) in the Himalayas and central China and lugens (‘Black-backed Wagtail’) in the Russian Far East and Japan. Some authorities recognise ‘dukhunensis’ from central Russia but this is often synonymised with alba (Alström & Mild 2003). Intergradation occurs between at least some of these subspecies. The taxonomy of the complex is debated, however. Species status for both lugens and personata has been proposed by some authors whilst others have proposed a split into nine species (Sangster et al. 1998).

The subspecies yarrellii is very common in Britain, with alba a common passage migrant and very rare breeder. The subspecies leucopsis is also on the British List on the basis of a male in County Durham in April 2005 (Addinall 2005 and 2010, Hudson et al. 2009). At least some of the other subspecies are also potential vagrants to Britain, perhaps particularly subpersonata, ocularis, baicalensis and personata. The first listed has reached Portugal (Moore 1999) whilst the last has occurred as close as Norway (Eggen 2003).

The identification of adult males and most adult females to subspecies can be relatively straightforward, and first-winters of some subspecies are distinctive too. The precise pattern of the head, upperparts, flanks, breast, wing coverts, rump, uppertail coverts and tail should be noted. Aberrant adult yarrellii is a confusion risk for adult leucopsis. Vocal differences have been noted between some subspecies (Alström & Mild 2003, Robb et al. 2010).

Claims of any vagrant subspecies are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and good photographs (Rowlands 2010). Sound recordings may also be of value A ringing recovery would provide additional evidence. (updated March 2015 AMS).


Addinall, S. 2005. The Amur Wagtail in County Durham – a new Western Palearctic bird. Birding World 18: 155-158.

Addinall, S. G. 2010. Amur Wagtail in County Durham: new to Britain and the Western Palearctic. British Birds 103: 260-267.

Alström, P. & Mild, K. 2003. Pipits and Wagtails. Helm, London

Cramp, S. et al. 1988. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 5. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Eggen, M. The Masked Wagtail in Norway – new to western Europe. Birding World 16: 464-465.

Hudson, N. & the Rarities Committee. 2009. Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2008. British Birds 102: 528-601.

Moore, C. C. 1999. Moroccan Wagtail in Portugal in July 1995. Dutch Birding 21: 31-33.

Robb, M., van den Berg, A. & The Sound Approach. 2010. Flight call identification of White, Pied and Moroccan Wagtail. Dutch Birding 32: 251-253.

Rowlands, A. 2010. From the Rarities Committee’s files: Proposed criteria for BBRC assessment of claims of ‘Amur Wagtail’. British Birds 103: 268-275.

Sangster, G, Hazevoet, C. J., van den Berg, A. B. & Roselaar, C. S. 1998. Dutch avifaunal list: species concepts, taxonomic instability, and taxonomic changes in 1998. Dutch Birding 20: 22-32.


Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs

Chaffinch comprises around seventeen subspecies, normally regarded as forming three groups. A northern group includes nominate coelebs from Europe and northern Russia, gengleri from Britain and Ireland and a further around eight subspecies in south-west Asia and around the Mediterranean. A North African group (known as ‘African Chaffinch’) comprises africana (‘Atlas Chaffinch’) in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and spodiogenys (‘Tunisian Chaffinch’) in northern and eastern Tunisia and Libya. A Macaronesian group comprises a further five subspecies on Madeira, the Canaries and the Azores (Cramp et al. 1994). This taxonomy is debated, however, with all three groups proposed as potential splits (Collinson 2001, Cramp et al. 1994).

Nominate coelebs and gengleri are both abundant in Britain, the former a winter visitor and the latter a breeder. No other subspecies is on the British List. A number of birds showing characters suggestive of africana or spodiogenys have been recorded in Britain (and also in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe) but in all cases some aspects of their appearance have been considered to be anomalous, and none has been accepted. Two African Chaffinches, one referred to africana, the other to africana/spodiogenys, have, however, been accepted in the Netherlands so at least africana is clearly a potential vagrant to Britain as well (Mullarney 2006).

The identification of typical male africana and spodiogenys can be straightforward. The key features are the pattern of the head, mantle, rump and uppertail coverts, underparts, wing and tail (Corso 2009). Females are only subtly different from female coelebs/gengleri. Caution is required with birds such as those referred to above which superficially resemble North African Chaffinches but which show apparently anomalous features including near-colourless underparts, scattered orange underpart feathering, olive hues in the ear coverts and grey hues in the malar region, throat and upper breast sides. It is not clear whether these birds are intergrades, aberrant northern birds or whether they may even represent previously undocumented variation in the North African subspecies. Research into their identity continues. Vocalisations of africana and spodiogenys are reported to be different both from coelebs/gengleri and from each other (van den Berg et al. 2005).

Claims of africana/spodiogenys are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and good photographs. Identification to subspecies would depend on a ringing recovery or potentially a sound recording. (updated March 2015 AMS).


Brinkhuizen, D. M., Heikamp, A. & van den Berg, A. B. 2004. DB Actueel: Afrikaanse Vink in Haren. Dutch Birding 26: 84-85.

Clement, P., Harris, A. & Davis, J. 1999. Finches and Sparrows. Christopher Helm, London.

Collinson, M. 2001. Evolution of Atlantic-island Chaffinches. British Birds 94:121-124.

Corso, A. 2009. Identificazione del Fringuello africano. Quaderni di birdwatching 21: 11.

Cramp, S. et al. 1994. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 8. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Jonker, M. Winters, R., van den Berg, A. B. & Ebels, E. B. 2008. Atlasvinken in Eemshaven in april 1999 en op Maasvlakte in april 2003. Dutch Birding 30: 215-223.

Mullarney, K. 2006. A Chaffinch resembling African Chaffinch in Ireland. Birding World 19: 109-112.

Oreel, G.J. 2004. Origin of presumed African Chaffinch on Maasvlakte in April 2003. Dutch Birding 26: 46-47.

van den Berg, A. B. & The Sound Approach. 2005. Field identification of Maghreb chaffinches. Dutch Birding 27: 295-301.

van Duijl, M. 2003. DB Actueel: Afrikaanse Vink op Maasvlakte. Dutch Birding 25: 202-203.


Common Redpoll Acanthis flammea

Under current taxonomy, Common Redpoll comprises three subspecies – nominate flammea (‘Mealy Redpoll’) with a nearly complete Holarctic distribution in the boreal zone, rostrata (‘Greenland Redpoll’) in southern Greenland and north-east Canada and islandica (‘Iceland Redpoll’) in Iceland (Cramp et al. 1994). This treatment is problematic, however, as Iceland’s redpolls comprise two (albeit intergrading) types – a dark form closely resembling rostrata and a pale form closely resembling Arctic Redpoll A. hornemanni. Interpretations of this situation vary but the current aggregation of two apparently distinct lineages into a single taxon requires review (Cramp et al. 1994, Herremans 1990). An alternative approach would be to treat dark Icelandic birds as close to (and perhaps synonymous with) rostrata whilst regarding pale Icelandic birds as an ‘Arctic Redpoll type’, close to (and perhaps synonymous with) hornemanni Arctic Redpoll (Stoddart 2014).

Nominate flammea is an unpredictable, irruptive late autumn and winter visitor to Britain although there are scattered breeding records in Scotland.  The subspecies rostrata is a scarce mid-autumn migrant to northernmost Scotland and has also bred. The subspecies islandica was formerly on the British List but has now been removed. However, dark birds with biometrics matching those of islandica have been trapped in Britain and apparent pale Icelandic birds have been documented too (and have even bred) (Riddington & Votier 1997, Reid & Riddington 1998, Stoddart 2011 and 2014). The subspecies islandica may in reality be a regular scarce migrant. However, a continued listing here is probably sensible until such time as the taxonomic questions are resolved and/or islandica is added to the British List.

The identification of Icelandic birds is potentially, but not necessarily always, troublesome. Dark birds are essentially indistinguishable from rostrata although biometrics might be useful. Pale birds are striking, however. The palest are barely streaked in the underparts, rump and undertail coverts and closely resemble hornemanni Arctic Redpoll whilst others are more heavily streaked in these areas. Such birds are identifiable in the field with care but need to be distinguished from both subspecies of Arctic Redpoll. In the hand, biometrics would be useful. Vocalisations will separate all Iceland and Greenland birds from those from the European mainland.

Claims of islandica are welcomed if accompanied by a ringing recovery. (updated April 2015 AMS).


Cramp, S. et al. 1994. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 8. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Herremans, M. 1990. Taxonomy and evolution in Redpolls Carduelis flammea – hornemanni; a multivariate study of their biometry. Ardea 78: 441-458.

Reid, J.M. & Riddington, R. 1998. Identification of Greenland and Iceland Redpolls. Dutch Birding 20: 261-269.

Riddington, R. & Votier, S. 1997. Redpolls from Greenland and Iceland. Birding World 10: 147-149.

Stoddart, A. 2011. Iceland Redpoll at Kelling in 2009: New to Norfolk. Norfolk Bird & Mammal Report 2010. Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society.

Stoddart. A. 2014. Redpolls – A review of their taxonomy, identification and British status. British Birds 106: 708-736.


Arctic Redpoll Acanthis hornemanni

Arctic Redpoll comprises two subspecies – exilipes (‘Coues’s Arctic Redpoll’) in northernmost Europe, Asia and North America and nominate hornemanni (‘Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll’) in northern Greenland and north-east High Arctic Canada (Cramp et al. 1994). Other pale redpolls breeding in Iceland may either be an outlier population of hornemanni or constitute a discrete Arctic Redpoll population though they are currently aggregated with Iceland’s dark birds as islandica Common Redpoll (see above).

The subspecies exilipes is a rare late autumn and winter visitor to Britain (mainly in the north and east) but occasionally larger numbers occur in irruptions of ‘Mealy Redpolls’. Nominate hornemanni is a rare mid-autumn visitor, mainly to northernmost Scotland. Nominate hornemanni is currently considered by BBRC but exilipes was removed from the rarity list at the end of 2005.

The separation of exilipes and nominate hornemanni is not necessarily straightforward. There are no firm plumage features which will separate the two subspecies but structural clues such as bill heaviness/depth are useful. The key feature is size. In the hand, biometrics are fully diagnostic but size can also be assessed in the field, preferably by direct comparison with other redpolls or, failing that, with other species. Vocalisations are also useful whilst circumstantial evidence based on location, date, weather conditions and accompanying redpolls/other species might also be important.

Arctic Redpoll sensu lato does not meet the threshold for BBRC consideration and birds not attributed to subspecies should be considered by county and local records committees. However, each subspecies viewed in isolation now does meet the criteria for consideration. With effect from January 2015, therefore, exilipes is considered once more and claims of both exilipes and nominate hornemanni are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and preferably good photographs. Sound recordings and biomterics would provide additional evidence, as would, of course, a ringing recovery.

Any claims found ‘not proven’ by BBRC (but still acceptable as Arctic Redpoll) will be notified to county and local records committees for local publication. (updated April 2015 AMS).


Cramp, S. et al. 1994. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 8. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Pennington, M. & Maher, M. 2005. Greenland, Iceland and Hornemann’s Redpolls in Britain. Birding World 18: 66-78.

Stoddart. A. 2014. Redpolls – A review of their taxonomy, identification and British status. British Birds 106: 708-736.

Thomason, B. & Pennington, M. 2012. The influx of Hornemann’s Arctic Redpolls on Unst, Shetland in November 2012. Birding World 25: 500-516.

van den Berg, A. B., Ebels, E. B. & Robb, M. S. 2007 Hornemann’s Redpoll near Huisduinen in October 2003 and its identification, taxonomy and occurrence. Dutch Birding 29: 25-30.


Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis

Snow Bunting comprises four subspecies – nominate nivalis in North America, Greenland, northern Europe and north European Russia east to the Pechora, insulae in Iceland, vlasowae in northern Russia east of the Pechora and townsendi in the Bering Sea region. Intergradation between nivalis and vlasowae occurs between the White Sea and the Pechora, resulting in birds of intermediate appearance (Cramp et al. 1994).

Nominate nivalis and insulae are winter visitors and rare breeders in Britain, the latter outnumbering the former. No other subspecies is on the British List but vlasowae is perhaps a potential vagrant and birds perhaps resembling this subspecies have been noted here.

The identification of vlasowae is not straightforward, resting on the extent of white in the rump in males and its extension onto the lower back and uppertail coverts. The existence of intergrades further clouds the issue, whilst some nivalis from Ellesmere Island (Canada), north-east Greenland and Spitsbergen can match the appearance of vlasowae (Cramp et al. 1994).

Claims of vlasowae are welcomed if accompanied by a ringing recovery. (updated March 2015 AMS).


Cramp, S. et al. 1994. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 9. Oxford University Press, Oxford.


Lapland Bunting Calcarius lapponicus

Lapland Bunting comprises five subspecies. Nominate lapponicus breeds from northern Scandinavia to east Siberia, subcalcaratus (‘Canadian Lapland Bunting’) in Greenland and northern Canada, alascensis in north-east Siberia and Alaska, kamtschaticus in Kamchatka and around the Sea of Okhotsk and coloratus on the Komandor Islands (Cramp et al. 1994). The validity of subcalcaratus has been disputed, however (Williamson & Davis 1956).

Nominate lapponicus is a fairly common winter visitor to Britain and a very rare breeder. The subspecies subcalcaratus is not formally on the British List but the BOU 8th Checklist (BOU 1994) notes that “many or most individuals recorded in Britain are likely to be of Nearctic/Greenland origin, sometimes recognized as a distinct subspecies subcalcaratus”, the latter comment presumably a recognition of the taxonomic uncertainties. Arrivals of Lapland Buntings in circumstances indicating a Greenland origin (i.e. occurring in westerly airflows with other ‘northwestern’ species such as ‘Greenland Redpolls’ and ‘Greenland Wheatears’) have long been noted (Williamson & Davis 1956), whilst birds with biometrics indicating subcalcaratus have also been trapped here (Kehoe 2006). Cramp et al. (1994) describe subcalcaratus as “wintering partly in Europe”. It seems well established therefore that subcalcaratus is a regular migrant to Britain. However, a continued listing here is probably sensible until such time as the taxonomic questions are resolved and/or subcalcaratus is added to the British List.

The identification of subcalcaratus rests on small biometric differences, this subspecies having a larger bill and a longer wing than nominate lapponicus.

Claims of subcalcaratus are sought if accompanied by a ringing recovery. (updated March 2015 AMS).


British Ornithologists’ Union. 1994. 20th Report. Ibis 136: 253-255.

Cramp, S. et al. 1994. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 9. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Kehoe, C. 2006. Racial identification and assessment in Britain. British Birds 99: 618-645.

Williamson, K. & Davis, P. 1956. The autumn 1953 invasion of Lapland Buntings and its source. British Birds 49: 6-25.