Although the Black-faced Bunting spends autumn and winter in gardens and parks throughout southern Honshu, it is difficult to spot since it stays inside bushy shrubbery. During spring and summer it breeds in woodland areas of central Honshu at an altitude of around 1000 meters. The further north it goes the lower the elevation becomes, and in Hokkaido it breeds even in lowland areas. It eats mainly seeds in autumn and winter, but during the breeding season it also eats insects. Its call is a short “tzi-tzi” but it has a beautiful singing voice.
Play birds singing
Even though they frequent gardens and parks, like the Japanese Bush Warbler, they are hard to find so they often go unnoticed. If you hear “jug-jug” in a voice that is lower and more guttural than a Sparrow's “chick-chuck” sound coming out from bushy shrubbery, it is a Japanese Bush Warbler, but if you hear a sharp, thin “tzi-tzi” sound it is likely a Black-faced Bunting. The Rustic Bunting has a similar singing voice but you can distinguish it from Black-faced Buntings when it flies out from the bushy shrubbery to get away. Black-faced Buntings and Japanese Bush Warblers often go deeper inside the bushes to escape detection.
Other than the Black-faced Bunting, the bunting family includes the Rustic Bunting, the Meadow Bunting, and the Grey Bunting. Many buntings have a similar voice that makes a sharp “tzi-tzi” sound but each one has a distinctive song. The song of the Meadow Bunting sounds as if it is saying “Sapporo ramen, miso ramen,” which is a popular Japanese dish, or something familiar to Japanese people . In contrast to the quickness of the Meadow Bunting, the Black-faced Bunting sings at a relaxed pace with slightly longer intervals.
Its song is often heard in Hokkaido since it breeds even in lowland areas. South of Honshu, males are heard singing in lowland areas in spring during March and April, just before they return to their breeding grounds.
In Japan, the Black-faced Bunting is called Aoji. Ao means blue in Japanese, but it can also be green. The origin of its name in Japanese comes from the green coloring on the male's head whereas in English its name comes from the coloring on its face, namely the black beard around its bill.
Its close relative the Grey Bunting, which is Kuroji in Japanese (kuro means black), got its name from the dark body coloring of the male. The female has light brown, or tan, coloring and looks quite similar to the female Black-faced Bunting. The shared characteristics of the bunting family are that they mostly eat seeds with their thick bill that is similar to a sparrow, and the under part of their tail is white and stands out in flight (patterns on the tail and wings that stand out in flight are thought to be something like a danger signal). For some reason the Grey Bunting does not have any white parts on its tail feathers, so thanks to that it can be distinguished from the Black-faced Bunting.
Although it resides in gardens and parks in the autumn and winter, there are few opportunities to observe it since it skulks deep within bushes and shrubbery. Like the male in the photo, there are some individuals whose black beard does not stand out.
The female is without green and yellow coloring but the white part on the underside of her tail feathers stands out in flight.
Canon sites where this bird is seen