Preserving the Yellow-breasted Bunting Population

Preserving the Yellow-breasted Bunting Population

April – December 2018

Lake Baikal Foundation advocates for saving Baikal fauna and in 2018 launched the first joint project with ornithologists from the Baikal Nature Reserve on protecting and studying the population of the yellow-breasted bunting.

Yellow-breasted bunting (Emberiza aureola) is a Eurasian passerine bird in the bunting family (Emberizidae). It used to be one of the most widespread bird species in Russia. Its breeding area stretched from Finland and south-western border of the Ukraine in the west to Kamchatka and Japan in the east. The yellow-breasted bunting inhabited the whole territory within the Baikal region and dominated in some areas. However, over the last 30 years this bird has drastically decreased in numbers.

Being one of the most widespread species, the yellow-breasted bunting is now on the Red List of the International Union for Nature Conservation in category EN (endangered). The species is included in the Red Books of the Irkutsk Region and the Republic of Buryatia. There is a threat of extinction of the species, both in the Baikal natural territory and in the world.

As a part of the international monitoring program for terrestrial bird species in East Asia in November 2016, China held a meeting on preservation of the yellow-breasted bunting. The directions of work were determined with the aim to preserve the species. Scientists consider that the main reasons for its number decline are degradation of the habitats, hunting in the wintering areas and on migration routes.

The Selenga delta, the key ornithological territory of world significance, was selected for researching. Wetlands the Selenga river delta are included in the list of the Ramsar Convention sites, are a part of the World Natural Heritage site of UNESCO «Lake Baikal», they are also under protection of the Federal Reserve «Kabansky». One of the most massive nesting settlements of the yellow-breasted bunting in the region and in the world is situated here.


  • recruitment of the yellow-breast bunting in the Baikal natural area.


  • to provide grant assistance to the reserve for implementation of the project «Detecting the migration routes of the yellow-breasted bunting in the Selenga delta»;
  • to conduct the following works as a part of grant assistance:
  1. tracking the migration routes and wintering areas of birds;
  2. purchasing and installing loggers – light sensors which allow to detect the bird situation correct to 20-100 km. This method has been put into practice since 2000. Thanks to its lightness (from 0,65 g) and lower cost, it is possible to set them up on small birds;
  3. second catch and information reading from the logger. This task is not a hard one: yellow-breasted buntings are characterized by nesting conservatism. That’s why the bird returns to the same breeding site from year to year, which makes possible to catch it again next year in the same place.

What was done:

  • Lake Baikal Foundation allocated a grant of 250 000 rubles;
  • all necessary equipment has been purchased;
  • from 6 to 19 June 2018 the employees of the Baikal reserve carried on field work for tracking the migration routes and wintering areas of birds in the Selenga delta. The scientific expedition consisted of 10 people, including 6 specialists from Westphalian Wilhelms University, Germany;
  • Lake Baikal Foundation provided media support to the project;
  • apart from grant and meadia support Lake Baikal Foundation launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise additional funds to expand geography and capabilities of the project.


  • the researchers found 34 singing male birds instead of 19 found a year ago;
  • they detected the main breeding area in the delta which are willow branches 1-4 m high near meadows and in buggy areas;
  • they made biotopical description of 25 areas;
  • 11 birds got ringed (8 males and 3 females) for further observation of their migration routes during this year;
  • the researchers came up with the conclusion that the yellow-breasted bunting still lives in the Selenga delta, but its density is significantly lower than 30-40 years ago;
  • on May 30, 2018 in the framework of cooperation with Lake Baikal Foundation National Geographic Russia magazine published the article «Where has the yellow-breasted bunting gone?» (in Russian);
  • in the framework of the project the researchers for the first time conducted direct tracking of the migration routes of small passerine birds in the Baikal region and in Siberia in general, which allowed to make conclusions about urgent measures for preservation of the species. Before that instrumental tracking of autumn migration was conducted only once – on imperial eagles 20 years ago. The data of the yeallow-breasted bunting research will be presented in the framework of the monitoring program of terrestrial bird species of East Asia by BirdLife International.

In 2019 the researchers collected a part of funds through crowdfunding. The money was contributed to the activities on preservation of the unique bird.

Biodiversity Conservation