The Ortolan, or Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana) is a bird in the bunting family Emberizidae, a passerine family now separated by most modern authors from the finches, Fringillidae. The bird's common name is French, from the Latin hortulanus, the gardener bird, (from hortus, a garden).
A native of most European countries and western Asia, the Ortolan migrates in autumn to tropical Africa, returning at the end of April or beginning of May. Its distribution throughout its breeding range seems to be very local, and for this no obvious reason can be assigned. It was said in France to prefer wine-growing districts; but it certainly does not feed upon grapes, and is found equally in countries where vineyards are unknown. It reaches as far north as Scandinavia and beyond the Arctic Circle, frequenting cornfields and their neighbourhoods. It is an uncommon vagrant in spring and particularly autumn to the British Isles.
The Ortolan is 16 cm in length and weighs 20–25 grams (0.71–0.88 oz). In appearance and habits it much resembles its congener the Yellowhammer, but lacks the bright colouring of that species; the Ortolan's head, for instance, is greenish-grey, instead of a bright yellow. The somewhat monotonous song of the cock resembles that of the Yellowhammer.
Ortolan nests are placed on or near the ground; the eggs seldom show the hair-like markings so characteristic of most buntings' eggs.
Seeds are the natural diet, but beetles and other insects are eaten when feeding young.
For centuries, a rite of passage for French gourmets has been the eating of the Ortolan. These tiny birds—captured alive, force-fed, then drowned in Armagnac—were roasted whole and eaten that way, bones and all, while the diner draped his head with a linen napkin to preserve the precious aromas and, some believe, to hide from God.
The ortolan is force-fed by being placed in a dark box with millet, where as a reaction to darkness it proceeds to eat continuously. One way French diners ate ortolans was to cover their heads and face with a large napkin for the gourmet's aesthetic desire to absorb the maximum odour with the flavor. This famous use of the towel was launched by a priest, a friend of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
At one time, the island of Cyprus formed a chief depot for the exportation of ortolans, which were pickled in spices and vinegar and packed in casks containing from 300 to 400 each. In the early 20th century, from 400 to 500 casks were annually exported from Cyprus.
In the 1958 film Gigi, Gigi attends a luncheon with her Great Aunt Alicia as part of her instruction in the life of a courtesan. Ortolan are served as the main course, and the young girl struggles to eat the meal and answer a series of questions put to her by her demanding instructor.
In 1975, food critic Craig Claiborne made a winning $300 bid in an auction for a dinner for two, courtesy of American Express, at any restaurant in the world that takes its credit card. Claiborne selected Chez Denis in Paris for a $4000 meal that included a course of ortolans.
- deliberate killing or capture of these birds by any method;
- deliberate destruction of, or damage to, their nests and eggs or removal of their nests;
- taking their eggs in the wild and keeping these eggs;
- deliberate disturbance of these birds particularly during the period of breeding and rearing, insofar as this would have a significant negative effect on the birds;
- keeping birds, the hunting and capture of which is prohibited;
- sale, transport for sale, keeping for sale and the offering for sale of live or dead birds and of any readily recognizable parts or derivatives of these birds.
Ortolan hunting was banned in France in 1999, but the law was actually poorly enforced and it is thought that up to 50,000 ortolans were killed each year. In 2007, the pressure from France's League for Protection of Birds and from the European Union resulted in the French government promising to enforce the EU directive protecting the ortolan.
In American Dad, Season-5 Episode-1: In Country... Club. Roger Smith shows a caged Ortolan to Francine Smith and tells her he plans to consume the bird on the night that Barbra Streisand sings Celine Dion on Pay-Per-View. He proceeds to tell Francine how to prepare the Ortolan. Upon consuming the Ortolan during the PPV, Roger experiences a relaxing euphoria.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Emberiza hortulana". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- Roasted songbird banned in France from MSNBC.com
- Susan Bell (10/09/2007). "France's songbird delicacy is outlawed". Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-02-21.
- "France Bans an Old Culinary Tradition". 30 June 1999. Retrieved 2011-04-11.
- The Urban Hunt from The Stranger
- Bourdain, Anthony. Medium Raw. Harper Collins Press, 2010, pp. xi - xvi.
- "Ortolan". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.
- Craig Claiborne (November 14, 1975). "Just a Quiet Dinner for Two in Paris: 31 Dishes, Nine Wines, a $4,000 Check". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-14.
- "François Mitterrand's Last Meal". NPR. 1996. Retrieved 2008-05-26.
- "Ortalan Bunting, Emberiza hortulana factsheet". EU Wildlife and Sustainable Farming project. European Commission. 2009.
- The songbirds slaughtered for a Frenchman's supper, Daily Mail, September 7, 2010
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Emberiza hortulana|
- Alfred Newton (1911). "Ortolan". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.).
- "Ortolan". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
- Ortolan Bunting (emberiza hortulana) from the website of the European Commission
- 343: Poultry Slam 2007, a November 2007 episode of This American Life with a segment about eating Ortolan
- Oiseaux Photographs, text, map; (French)
- Ageing and sexing (PDF; 1.6 MB) by Javier Blasco-Zumeta and Gerd-Michael Heinze