In studies of phylogeography and taxonomy, strong emphasis is usually placed on the study of mitochondrial (mt)DNA. In the present study, we present a remarkable case in which highly phenotypically divergent species have almost no divergence in mtDNA. Yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella Linnaeus) and pine buntings (Emberiza leucocephalos S. G. Gmelin) differ noticeably in appearance and song but hybridize in some areas of contact. They share a variety of closely-related mtDNA haplotypes, with little divergence in frequencies, indicating a mitochondrial divergence time sometime during or after the last major glacial period. By contrast, nuclear DNA (amplified fragment length polymorphism markers and CHD1Z gene sequences) differs more strongly between the species, and these differences can be used to identify intermediate genetic signatures of hybrids. The combined amount of mitochondrial diversity within yellowhammers and pine buntings is very low compared to other Emberiza species pairs, whereas the level of variation at the nuclear gene CHD1Z is comparable to that within other species pairs. Although it is difficult to completely reject the possibility that the two species split extremely recently and experienced rapid nuclear and phenotypic differentiation, we argue that the evidence better supports another possibility: the two species are older and mtDNA has recently introgressed between them, most likely as a result of a selective sweep. Mismatches between mitochondrial and nuclear phylogeographic patterns may occur more commonly than previously considered, and could have important implications for the fields of phylogeography and taxonomy. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 98, 422–438.