Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos 白頭鵐

Category I. Accidental.


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Nov. 2014, Michelle and Peter Wong. Female.

16-17.5 cm. A large and long-tailed bunting. Females have a relatively poorly marked head pattern with the borders to the ear coverts mid brown and a whitish spot or patch between the rear of these. The malar stripes are streaked brown, while the underparts are whitish streaked greyish-brown on the throat and chest but rustier on the flanks; the mantle is greyish-brown streaked darker, while the rump and uppertail coverts are tinged rusty.

Males have a distinctive head pattern that usually allows straightforward identification. The crown and cheeks are snow white, the forehead and sides to the crown are blackish and the upper half of the face, throat and neck sides are chestnut. There is a broad whitish band across the upper chest, rusty centres to feathers on the lower chest and upper flanks and whitish belly, vent and undertail coverts. The rump and uppertail coverts are rusty. In winter the head pattern is obscured by pale or greyish feather tips that wear off as spring approaches.


A fairly varied non-song vocabulary includes a commonly-uttered, slightly nasal ringing and downslurred ‘tchew’.

Also a slightly buzzing ‘chit’.

And a high-pitched ‘tsee’.


There are two records considered to refer to naturally occurring birds:

2005: a male at Tai Mo Shan on 25 December.

2014: one, probably adult female, at Long Valley during 11-19 November.

Occasionally ex-captive individuals are seen.


The two subspecies recognised have disjunct breeding populations. The nominate subspecies breeds to the north in Siberia, northern Mongolia, while E. l. fronto breeds in Qinghai and Gansu, China. The latter subspecies appears to be non-migratory (Byers et al. 1995). Winters in Afghanistan, Pakistan, northwest India, central and northeast China, Ussuriland and Hokkaido (Byers et al. 1995).

In China it breeds from eastern Qinghai through southern Gansu to southern Shanxi and Henan (E. l. fronto), and in northern Xinjiang, Hebei and southern Heilongjiang (nominate subspecies) (Liu and Chen 2020). It is unknown to which subspecies HK records refer, though it would appear more likely to be the nominate.


IUCN: Least Concern. Population trend stable.

Byers, C., U. Olsson and J. Curson (1995). Buntings and Sparrows. A Guide to the Buntings and North American Sparrows. Pica Press, UK.

Hui, C. M. S. 2016. Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos at Long Valley. The first Hong Kong record accepted as Category I. Hong Kong Bird Report 2014: 314-315.

Liu, Y. and Y. H. Chen (eds) (2020). The CNG Field Guide to the Birds of China (in Chinese). Hunan Science and Technology Publication House, Changsha.

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