Jankowski's Bunting (Emberiza jankowskii).  A male on the breeding grounds in northeast China.

Jankowski’s Bunting (Emberiza jankowskii)


December 2014

The 2015 project plan for Jankowski’s Bunting is being developed and, subject to funding, will include more surveys (including one in eastern Mongolia, where a single bird was photographed in November 2013) and in Inner Mongolia and Jilin Province in China.  The project will also explore the feasibility of encouraging visiting birders to visit one specific site where JB breeds in reasonable numbers and to make a modest contribution to the conservation activities of a local nature reserve, plus another workshop with local government officials and other local groups further to raise awareness and discuss progress.

May/June 2014

The two spring surveys this year yielded 94 and 53 individuals respectively, including the discovery of 9 new sites.

1 November 2013

Attended a workshop, alongside BirdLife International, Beijing Birdwatching Society, HKBWS and local government representatives in Inner Mongolia to discuss the results of this year’s survey and potential measures to help protect remaining areas of habitat.

20 August 2013

Today I gave a live interview with Rico Hizon on the Newsday programme for BBC World TV about Jankowski’s Bunting.  It was broadcast live at 0715 and repeated several times throughout the day.  A great opportunity to raise awareness about JB!

12 July 2013

Great news!  The Environment Protection and Resources Conservation (EPRC) Committee of the National Peoples Congress (the lawmaking body in China) has pledged to protect Jankowski’s Bunting under a new law it is developing on biodiversity.

Last week I co-organised a conference in Beijing involving 35 countries to share experiences on climate change laws, at which the National Peoples Congress gave an update on the progress with China’s national climate change legislation.  In the margins I met with the key staff of the EPRC and discussed their current work programme which, in addition to the climate law, includes a new law on biodiversity.  The staff had heard about my campaign to help save Jankowski’s Bunting from extinction and wanted to find out more…  Of course, I was only too happy to oblige and after showing them pictures and video, playing sound recordings of the bird and explaining about the perilous status of the population and my recent visit to Inner Mongolia and Jilin to survey the bird, they were enthused about helping… After about an hour of conversation, they pledged to ensure that Jankowski’s Bunting was given special protection under the new law and even went so far as to say that they should set a target to double the population…

Details are still to be worked out, and it’s likely to be some time before the law is complete and approved, but extra legal protection for this bird will certainly help to ensure the local authorities prioritise the conservation of this species and will hopefully help them to secure the necessary resources from central government to implement conservation measures.

Watch this space!

23 May 2013: The survey team report the discovery of a second new site.  It’s large (c5km x 2km) and a partial survey of the area revealed at least 6 birds.

22 May 2013: Just returned from the Jankowski’s Bunting survey with the Beijing Birdwatching Society.  We visited several known sites and also tried many other potential sites.  Birds were seen at 3 locations.  The good news is that we discovered a new site near Ulanhaote holding 6 males.

May 2013: I will participate in the survey of Jankowski’s Bunting from 18-22 May 2013.  Communications permitting, I will blog and tweet (@BirdingBeijing) from Inner Mongolia and Jilin.

May 2013: report of 35 Jankowski’s Buntings at Xianghai NR, a site that hasn’t held these birds for more than a decade. EDIT: the site of this sighting is actually Xi Er Gen, not Xianghai NR.

Jan 2013: Sir David Attenborough visits Beijing and supports the campaign to save Jankowski’s Bunting!

Sir David Attenborough lends his support to the campaign to save Jankowski's Bunting.
Sir David Attenborough lends his support to the campaign to save Jankowski’s Bunting.


The Jankowski’s Bunting (Emberiza jankowskii) is a very rare bird.  So rare that, without immediate action, it could slip away before the end of this decade.  Unfortunately this little bird isn’t big or furry and doesn’t have a spoon-shaped bill.  Instead it falls into the “Little Brown Job” (LBJ) category of birds.  Added to the fact that it lives in a rarely visited part of northeast China, this means that its rapid and accelerating journey towards extinction has been progressing with seemingly little effort to save it and even less public awareness.  That, I hope, is about to change.

This beautiful bunting, sometimes known by the more descriptive, but less endearing, name of Rufous-backed Bunting, was once described as locally common across its range including Far Eastern Russia, North-eastern China (Heilongjiang, Jilin and Inner Mongolia) and North Korea.  But in the last couple of decades, in particular, it has suffered a calamitous population decline.  It is now thought to be extinct in Russia, its status is unknown in the small historical range in North Korea and there are only a handful of known individuals hanging on at a few sites in northeast China.  Although there are probably some sites yet to be discovered, the total number of individuals seen in 2012 so far is, as far as I am aware, under 30.

Habitat destruction is almost certainly the main cause of the decline.  Jankowski’s Buntings just love grassland peppered with Siberian Apricot (Prunus sibirica) bushes.  Over-grazing and a devastating, long-term, drought in the region have decimated its habitat.  This, combined (pun unintended) with the cutting of grassland for hay during the breeding season, is thought to have been responsible for the precipitous drop in numbers of Jankowski’s Buntings in recent years.  And, on top of that, although northeast China regularly experiences cold winters with temperatures down to -30 degrees C, a particularly harsh winter in 2000-2001, during which unusually deep snow covered the region, is thought to have hit hard the already vulnerable population.


Despite the alarm bells, all is not yet lost. BirdLife International, in partnership with local groups, has recently begun a project to raise awareness of this bird’s plight and establish a robust conservation action plan.  Following the first conservation workshop dedicated to the Jankowski’s Bunting in June 2012 in Jilin Province, there is now a glimmer of hope that some of the pieces of the jigsaw needed to help preserve this species are being put in place.  A growing number of local people are interested in doing what they can to protect the bird’s habitat through more sympathetic land management, an education and awareness programme is planned for local schools, and more widely via social media, and population surveys are being conducted by the Beijing Birdwatching Society at known, and potential new, sites to try to establish a more accurate picture of population levels.

The missing ingredient, to ensure this work is carried out and coordinated effectively, is funding.  That is why BirdLife has set up a JustGiving page to encourage donations from concerned individuals and corporations to help raise the cash required to make this project viable.  An initial target of £10,000 has been set to help fund this particular project in the first year.  To get the ball rolling Birding Beijing has made a three-year financial commitment and become a Species Champion under the BirdLife Preventing Extinction Programme to support Jankowski’s Bunting and other globally threatened species.

Despite being thought to be mostly sedentary and/or a partial migrant (even this is not fully known!), there are historic records of the Jankowski’s Bunting from Beijing and it is also the “Endangered” species with a population closest to the Chinese capital.  Living in Beijing, I certainly feel a sense of responsibility to do something to help protect this bird before it slips into extinction.  I hope others will, too.  The resilience of nature is such that, given the right support, species can return from the brink.  If man shows the will, nature will find a way.


Jankowski’s Bunting was first described by Polish zoologist Wladyslaw Taczanowski in 1888 from a specimen of an adult male collected by fellow Pole, Michal Jankowski during an expedition in 1886. Michal Jankowski (1840-1903) was a Polish exile sent to Siberia 1864 and worked with other prominent ornithologists Dybowski and Godlewski (of Godlewski’s Bunting and Blyth’s Pipit fame) on several expeditions to Far Eastern Russia, northeast China and Korea.

8 thoughts on “Jankowski’s Bunting (Emberiza jankowskii)”

  1. Hi Terry,

    Thx for the great blog! I heard about the jankowski’s bunting and his rapit decline. Currently I am writing my Bsc. theses about a near relative oft he Jankowski’s Bunting, the yellow-browed bunting (Emberiza aureola). Look like both are charring the same fate. The population of the yellow-browd bunting is also decreasing (but of cause Emberiza aureola is far not so endanger like the jankowski’s bunting). Anyway I started thinking why those buntings are having such a harsh time in the last decades and was considering a land use change. I found your little article quite interesting. May I ask you for the literature or sources you used for describing of the habitat destruction in the text?

    All the best from Germany!


  2. Hi Bart! Thanks. Yes, it is encouraging that there seems to be a number of sightings this Spring. Quite a few independent birders have been up to the region and seen them. The most encouraging sighting is of a group of 30+ at Xianghai NR. This is a site where J Bunting has been absent for at least 10 years… I am going up to participate in the survey on 18 May, so I will report back on what I find… Thanks again, Terry

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