Cirl Bunting – a mega rare species in northern England – was seen in Durham

Cirl Bunting – a mega rare species in northern England – was seen in Durham on Monday, stunning local birders.

The bird, a male, was photographed by Cameron Sharp at Barnard Castle on Monday 18 March. It was elusive, showing only occasionally until the evening, and wasn’t seen the following day.

Cirl Bunting - eBird

Prior to this individual, there was only record of Cirl Bunting in Durham which refers to a returning male more than 40 years ago.

The male Cirl Bunting at Barnard Castle (Cameron Sharp).

North-East rarity

Cirl Bunting is a localised bird in Britain, where it is at the edge of its range, being restricted to the South-West. It has enjoyed an increase in recent years, though, which has concurred with an uptick in extralimital records in counties like Dorset, Somerset and, in 2022, Glamorgan.

Andrew Kinghorn, Chair of Durham Bird Club, explained the rarity of the species in the county: “There is a previous record of Cirl Bunting in Durham, which pertains to a singing male near Langley Park in May of 1980. It remained in the area until mid-August.

“What was more amazing was that what was surely the same male returned again in April of 1981 and this time stayed until early June. It is impossible (without telemetry or ringing data) to establish the origins of this bird. There is however evidence of British born birds moving around the country, a first-year bird ringed in Sussex on 27 July 1975 was recovered some 638 km to the north in Fife on 11 June 1976.

Origin debate

“So, while it is tempting to suggest this could be of continental origin, it could just as easily be a bird from a British population. Wherever it came from it’s an absolutely fantastic record for Durham and I know I speak for many county birders in hoping this individual is refound in the immediate vicinity in coming weeks.”

The last Cirl Bunting in Durham was in 1981 (Cameron Sharp).

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