Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 156, Issue 1, pp 263–273 | Cite as

A review of the distribution of Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) dialects in Europe reveals the lack of a clear macrogeographic pattern

  • Tereza Petrusková
  • Lucie Diblíková
  • Pavel Pipek
  • Eckehard Frauendorf
  • Petr Procházka
  • Adam Petrusek
Original Article


The Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) is a bird with a very long history of research in geographic song variation, dating back to the 1920s. Numerous features make the Yellowhammer a suitable model for studying songbird dialects: it is a common and easily recognizable species, has a simple song, keeps singing long into the season, and has dialects (defined by the final song phrase) that are relatively easy to identify. Numerous works have focused on Yellowhammer dialects and their geographic distribution in various parts of Europe, often revealing mosaic-like patterns even at relatively restricted spatial scales. However, it has been repeatedly suggested that Yellowhammer dialects can be divided into two groups showing a macrogeographic pattern of distribution (in some recent works, eastern and western groups of dialects have been mentioned). To evaluate this assumption, data scattered in various published sources need to be pooled. Comparing historical records is nevertheless challenging, as various nomenclatures for Yellowhammer dialects were used until the mid-1980s (when a detailed system coined by Poul Hansen in Denmark was adopted), and older studies often did not differentiate between dialects recognized at present. To facilitate further work on song variation of this species, we summarized published information on the distribution of Yellowhammer dialects in Europe, added data from recordings publicly available online and in selected sound collections, and unified the different dialect nomenclatures used in the past. We demonstrate that the continental-wide distribution patterns of Yellowhammer dialects do not support the existence of broad, geographically distinct dialect groups (eastern vs. western). Furthermore, some of the presently recognized distinct dialect types seem to be parts of a broader continuum. Based on our conclusions, we discuss potential future avenues for Yellowhammer dialect research.


Emberiza citrinella Song variation Dialect nomenclature Online sources Macrogeographic patterns 


Ein Überblick über die Dialektverteilung der Goldammer ( Emberiza citrinella ) in Europa zeigt das Fehlen eines klaren makrogeographischen Musters

Die Geschichte der Erforschung der geographischen Strophenvariationen der Goldammer (Emberiza citrinella) ist sehr lang und beginnt in den 1920er Jahren. Zahlreiche Merkmale machen die Goldammer zu einem geeigneten Modell für die Untersuchung von Singvogeldialekten: Sie ist eine häufige und leicht erkennbare Art, hat eine einfache Strophe, die Gesangssaison ist lang und sie bildet Dialekte (durch den letzten Strophenteil bestimmt), die relativ leicht zu bestimmen sind. Zahlreiche Untersuchungen der Goldammerdialekte und deren geographische Verteilung in verschiedenen Teilen Europas ergaben oft mosaikartige Muster selbst in relativ kleinen Gebieten. Es ist jedoch wiederholt vorgeschlagen worden, die Goldammerdialekte in zwei Gruppen nach makrogeographischem Verteilungsmuster zu unterteilen (einige neuere Arbeiten erwähnen östliche und westliche Dialektgruppen). Um diesen Vorschlag zu überprüfen, war es erforderlich, die Ergebnisse der verschiedenen Quellen zusammenzustellen. Der Vergleich der historischen Daten ist dennoch eine Herausforderung, weil unterschiedliche Dialektbezeichnungen bis in die Mitte der 1980er Jahre verwendet wurden (bis das von Poul Hansen veröffentlichte ausführliche Bezeichnungssystem für Goldammerdialekte benutzt wurde) und weil oft in älteren Studien die Dialekte nicht nach der derzeitigen Systematik unterteilt wurden. Um die weiteren Untersuchungen der Gesangsvariabilität der Goldammer zu erleichtern, haben wir die veröffentlichten Ergebnisse über die Verteilung der Goldammerdialekte in Europa zusammengefasst, veröffentlichte Internetaufnahmen und ausgewählte Klangsammlungen ausgewertet sowie die verschiedenen Systeme der Dialektbezeichnung, die in der Vergangenheit verwendet wurden, vereinheitlicht. Wir zeigen, dass sich die kontinentalweite Verteilung der Goldammerdialekte nicht in breite geographische Dialektgruppen (Ost-West) einteilen lässt. Außerdem scheinen einige der kürzlich ermittelten verschiedenen Dialekttypen in einem größeren Gebiet vorzukommen. Auf der Grundlage unserer Ergebnisse diskutieren wir mögliche Wege der Goldammerdialektforschung für die Zukunft.



We thank Cheryl Tipp for providing the recordings from the British Library sound archive, Guido Helbling from for arranging approval for the use of recordings from the BBC Nature Sounds Effect Library, and all authors who uploaded their recordings to publicly accessible repositories (for their list, see the Electronic Supplementary Material 1). Matthias Glaubrecht and Christian Marti kindly sent us some inaccessible literature sources. Three anonymous referees provided useful comments on a previous version of the manuscript. The study was partially funded by the Grant Agency of the Charles University in Prague (project no. 312213). Petr Procházka was supported from the Institutional Research Plan (RVO: 68081766).

Supplementary material

10336_2014_1102_MOESM1_ESM.xls (86 kb)
Electronic Supplementary Material 1: Recordings obtained from online sources and sound archives. The file contains three spreadsheets. In the first one, information on dialect and recording locality, and links to additional information stored online and original sources (when available) are provided. An alphabetical list of the authors of the recordings is given in the second sheet. A list of recordings provided to the Animal Sound Archive at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin is provided in the third sheet. (XLS 85.5 kb)
10336_2014_1102_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (2 mb)
Electronic Supplementary Material 2: A high-resolution map of distribution of Yellowhammer dialects in Europe (data from Fig. 1a, excluding records for which dialects could not be fully determined, and country-level data for which more exact location are unknown). Note that the position of dots on the map reflects the accuracy of various sources used to compile the review, and may not be accurate under very high magnification. (PDF 2079 kb)


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tereza Petrusková
    • 1
  • Lucie Diblíková
    • 1
  • Pavel Pipek
    • 1
  • Eckehard Frauendorf
    • 2
  • Petr Procházka
    • 3
  • Adam Petrusek
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Faculty of ScienceCharles University in PraguePrague 2Czech Republic
  2. 2.DresdenGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Vertebrate BiologyAcademy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicBrnoCzech Republic

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