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Range DescriptionEmberiza aureola breeds across the northern Palaearctic from Finland, Belarus and Ukraine in the west, through Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, to far eastern Russia, Korea and northern Japan. In the autumn, birds stop-over in large numbers to moult in the Yangtze Valley, China, before continuing on to their winter quarters. It winters in a relatively small region in South and South-East Asia, which includes eastern Nepal, north-eastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, southern China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand (Byers et al. 1995). It was formerly one of the most abundant breeding passerines across vast swathes of Siberia, but although there have been no systematic surveys, a severe decline has been noted in most breeding areas and it has completely disappeared from parts of its former breeding range since the early 1990s. No birds have been recorded breeding in Finland since 2009, and its range has contracted northwards by 300 km in Kazakhstan since the late 1990s. In some areas of Kazakhstan however, such as along the Irtysh river near Irtyshsk, there is no evidence of local declines (R. Ayé in litt. 2013). It is estimated to have declined by at least 70% in European Russia between 2000 and 2010, with declines reported in the Moscow, Novgorod, Kostroma, Ulyanovsk and Baikal regions (A. Mischenko in litt. 2012), as well as very rapid declines in the Tyumen region reported in 2011 (J. Kamp in litt. 2012), suggesting a massive decline in the core range (M. Flade in litt. 2007).
Surveys in 2012 and 2013 suggest that the species has nearly or completely disappeared from Tyumen province in Western Siberia, which appears consistent within an impression of a steep decline across Western Siberia (J. Kamp et al. in litt. 2013). In contrast, recent surveys within and outside protected areas in Amur and Chabarovsk regions, suggest that the species is faring better in the east of its breeding range, with an estimate of 100-150 breeding pairs in Muraviovka Park (c.6,500 ha) in 2013, although anecdotal evidence indicates a decline in these areas since the 1990s (J. Kamp et al. in litt. 2013). Severe declines have also been noted in Hokkaido, Japan and Mongolia (S. Chan and O. Goroshko in litt. 2003, Tamada 2006, M. Gilbert, A. Mischenko and J. Kamp in litt. 2007). It no longer occurs in "swarms" at migration watch-points such as Beidaihe, China, and although a range-wide survey is required, numbers at wintering sites throughout its range have also shown rapid declines over the last twenty years (S. Chan, M. Williams, J. W. Duckworth and N. Moores in litt. 2003, T. Evans, M. Gilbert, M. Williams and S. Chan in litt. 2007). Based on evidence from wintering grounds in Cambodia the species is said to be clearly declining (T. Gray in litt. 2013). Historically, it was noted to be common on the central plain, but is now considered scarce away from the Tonle Sap area, and surveys of birds used in "merit releases" at Phnom Penh riverfront suggest a steep decline in this species since the mid-1990s in the Mekong-Bassac floodplain, where most merit-bird trappers operate (F. Goes in litt. 2013). Furthermore, there has been a lack of records from south-eastern Cambodia since the late 1990s, suggesting that it is very rare and perhaps close to extirpation in that region (F. Goes in litt. 2013). In Nepal, declines in the population and number of localities occupied have been noted since 1990 (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2013). It also appears to have declined at the Hail Haor wetland in north-eastern Bangladesh since the mid-1980s (P. Thompson in litt. 2013). It should be noted that interpretation of the species's status in its non-breeding range based on the usually fragmentary information available is hindered by the erratic appearance of very large flocks (J. W. Duckworth in litt. 2013).