Bunting, properly the common English name of the bird called by Linnaeus Emberiza miliaria, but now used in a general sense for all members of the family Emberizidae, which are closely allied to the finches (Fringillidae), though, in Professor W.K. Parker's opinion, to be easily distinguished therefrom - the Emberizidae possessing what none of the Fringillidae do, an additional pair of palatal bones, "palato-maxillaries." It will probably follow from this diagnosis that some forms of birds, particularly those of the New World, which have hitherto been commonly assigned to the latter, really belong to the former, and among them the genera Cardinalis and Phrygilus. The additional palatal bones just named are also found in several other peculiarly American families, namely, Tanagridae, Icteridae and Mniotiltidae - whence it may be perhaps inferred that the Emberizidae are of Transatlantic origin. The buntings generally may be also outwardly distinguished from the finches by their angular gape, the posterior portion of which is greatly deflected; and most of the Old-World forms, together with some of those of the New World, have a bony knob on the palate - a swollen outgrowth of the dentary edges of the bill.
Correlated with this peculiarity the maxilla usually has the tomia sinuated, and is generally concave, and smaller and narrower than the mandible, which is also concave to receive the palatal knob. In most other respects the buntings greatly resemble the finches, but their eggs are generally distinguishable by the irregular hair-like markings on the shell. In the British Islands by far the commonest species of bunting is the yellow-hammer (E. citrinella), but the true bunting (or corn-bunting, or bunting-lark, as it is called in some districts) is a very well-known bird, while the reed-bunting (E. schoeniclus) frequents marshy soils almost to the exclusion of the two former. In certain localities in the south of England the cirl-bunting (E. cirlus) is also a resident; and in winter vast flocks of the snow-bunting (Plectrophanes nivalis), at once recognizable by its pointed wings and elongated hind-claws, resort to our shores and open grounds. This last is believed to breed sparingly on the highest mountains of Scotland, but the majority of the examples which visit us come from northern regions, for it is a species which in summer inhabits the whole circumpolar area.
The ortolan (E. hortulana), so highly prized for its delicate flavour, occasionally appears in England, but the British Islands seem to lie outside its proper range. On the continent of Europe, in Africa and throughout Asia, many other species are found, while in America the number belonging to the family cannot at present be computed. The beautiful and melodious cardinal (Cardinalis virginianus), commonly called the Virginian nightingale, must be included in this family.