Ortolan bunting

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Ortolan Bunting)

Ortolan bunting
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Emberizidae
Genus: Emberiza
E. hortulana
Binomial name
Emberiza hortulana
Linnaeus, 1758
Range of E. hortulana

The ortolan (Emberiza hortulana), also called ortolan bunting, is a Eurasian bird in the bunting family Emberizidae, a passerine family now separated by most modern scholars from the finches, Fringillidae. The genus name Emberiza is from Alemannic German Embritz, a bunting. The specific name hortulana is from the Italian name for this bird, ortolana.[2] The English ortolan is derived from Middle French hortolan, "gardener".[3]

The ortolan is served in French cuisine, typically cooked and eaten whole. Traditionally diners cover their heads with their napkin or a towel while eating the delicacy. The bird is so widely used that its French populations dropped dangerously low, leading to laws restricting its use in 1999. In September 2007, the French government announced its intent to enforce long-ignored laws protecting the bird.[4][5]


The ortolan bunting was described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae and retains its original binomial name of Emberiza hortulana.[6] The species is monotypic.[7] A molecular phylogenetic study of the buntings published in 2008 found that the ortolan bunting is most closely related to Cretzschmar's bunting (Emberiza caesia).[8]


Ortolan bunting
Ortolan bunting bird mount preparation
Ortolan eggs

The ortolan bunting is 16–17 cm (6.3–6.7 in) in length and has a wing-span of 23–29 cm (9.1–11.4 in).[9] In appearance and habits it much resembles its relative 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 song of the male ortolan resembles that of the yellowhammer.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

A native of most European countries and western Asia, 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. Sightings in the UK are less common than they were, owing to the species’ population decline due to overexploitation in France.[10]

It was spotted at Kenjar Coastal Karnataka, India, in November 2018 and photographed by birdwatchers. Some birders commented that it is the first photographic record of an ortolan bunting in India.[11]


Ortolan nests are placed on or near the ground.

The maximum age recorded is six years and ten months for a bird found dead in Switzerland.[12]

Seeds are the natural diet, but beetles and other insects are taken when feeding their young.

As food[edit]

For centuries, a rite of passage for French gourmets was 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 Wine Spectator[13]

The birds are caught with nets set during their autumn migratory flight to Africa. They are then kept in covered cages or boxes. The birds react to the dark by gorging themselves on grain, usually millet seed, until they double their bulk. The birds are then thrown into a container of Armagnac, which both drowns and marinates the birds.[14][15]

The bird is roasted for eight minutes and then plucked. The consumer then places the bird feet first into their mouth while holding onto the bird's head. The ortolan is then eaten whole, with or without the head, and the consumer spits out the larger bones. The traditional way French gourmands eat ortolans is to cover their heads and face with a large napkin or towel while consuming the bird. The purpose of the towel is debated. Some claim it is to retain the maximum aroma with the flavour as they consume the entire bird at once, others have stated "Tradition dictates that this is to shield – from God’s eyes – the shame of such a decadent and disgraceful act",[14] and others have suggested the towel simply hides the consumers spitting out bones.[16] This use of the towel was begun by a priest, a friend of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.[17]

At one time, the island of Cyprus formed a chief depot for the export of ortolans, which were pickled in spices and vinegar and packed in casks containing from 300 to 400 each. In the early 20th century, between 400 and 500 casks were annually exported from Cyprus.[18]

Noted meals[edit]

  • The Three Emperors Dinner in 1867 included ortolans on toast among its 16 courses.
  • The favourite dish of medicine Nobel laureate and inventor of the lobotomy procedure, António Egas Moniz, was ortolans as prepared at the restaurant Le Chapon Fin in Bordeaux.[19]
  • 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 $4,000 meal[20] ($20,665 in 2022) that included a course of ortolans.
  • In 1995, former French President François Mitterrand's last New Year's Eve meal included this specially prepared bird.[14]
  • Bill Cosby describes eating ortolan in an Italian restaurant on his 1973 album Fat Albert.[21]

Legal status[edit]

Ortolan hunting was banned in France in 1999, but the law was poorly enforced and it is thought that up to 50,000 ortolans were illegally killed each year during the autumn migration: mostly birds from breeding grounds in Finland and the Baltic area. According to France's League for the Protection of Birds, France's ortolan population fell 30% between 1997 and 2007.[22] In 2007, the French government vowed to strictly enforce some existing rules about banning the practice, with the maximum fine set at €6,000 (£4,800 or $6,728). Killing and cooking ortolans is banned across the EU. 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. After several years of active citizen watch revealing little if any change in the field situation,[23][24][25] the local representative of the government repeated this statement in 2016.[26]

European Union member states prohibit:[27]

  • 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.

As of 2018, the overall Ortolan bunting's population is listed by the IUCN as Least Concern (LC). However, a 2019 study using stable isotopes, archival light geologgers, and population genetics suggests the species is in decline.[28]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2017). "Emberiza hortulana". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2017: e.T22720916A111136121. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-1.RLTS.T22720916A111136121.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 145, 195. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  3. ^ "Ortolan". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  4. ^ "Roasted songbird? French dish now a no-no". NBC News. Associated Press. 19 September 2007. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  5. ^ Bell, Susan (9 September 2007). "France's songbird delicacy is outlawed". The Sunday Telegraph. Archived from the original on 30 June 2008. Retrieved 21 February 2008.
  6. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae:Laurentii Salvii. p. 177.
  7. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2018). "Buntings". World Bird List Version 9.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  8. ^ Alström, P.; Olsson, U.; Lei, F.; Wang, H.; Gao, W.; Sundberg, P. (2008). "Phylogeny and classification of the Old World Emberizini (Aves, Passeriformes)" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 47 (3): 960–973. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2007.12.007. PMID 18411062.
  9. ^ Cramp & Perrins 1994, p. 209.
  10. ^ Ornithology, British Trust for (7 April 2015). "Ortolan Bunting". BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Retrieved 24 March 2024.
  11. ^ "'First photo' of Ortolan Bunting in India is out". The Hindu. 22 November 2018. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  12. ^ "European Longevity Records". Euring. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  13. ^ "France Bans an Old Culinary Tradition". 30 June 1999. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
  14. ^ a b c Wallop, Harry (18 September 2014). "Why French chefs want us to eat this bird – head, bones, beak and all". The Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group Limited (Press Holdings). ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 3 March 2021. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  15. ^ Im, Jim (6 May 2018). "The illegal delicacy Axe ate on 'Billions' is a real thing — here's the story behind it". CNBC. National Broadcasting Company (NBCUniversal). Archived from the original on 18 March 2021. Retrieved 24 May 2021.
  16. ^ "French chefs seek to put banned songbird called ortolan back on menu". ABC. 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  17. ^ Kiley, Brendan (28 September 2006). "The Urban Hunt: A Summer Spent Killing—and Eating—Seattle's Small Game". The Stranger. Index Newspapers LLC. Archived from the original on 9 November 2020. Retrieved 24 May 2021.
  18. ^ Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Ortolan" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  19. ^ Lobo Antunes, João (2011). Egas Moniz: Uma Biografia [Egas Moniz: A Biography] (in Portuguese) (4th ed.). Lisbon: Gradiva. p. 19. ISBN 978-989-616-398-3.
  20. ^ Clairborne, Craig (14 November 1975). "Just a Quiet Dinner for Two in Paris: 31 Dishes, Nine Wines, a $4,000 Check". The New York Times. Vol. 214, no. 124. New York City. p. A1. ISSN 1553-8095. Archived from the original on 2 June 2020. Retrieved 24 May 2021.
  21. ^ "Bill Cosby - Fernet Branca". YouTube.
  22. ^ Wallop, Harry (17 September 2014). "Ortolans: could France's cruellest food be back on the menu?". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Ltd. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  23. ^ "Opération Bruants ortolans – 2013". lpo.fr (in French). Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  24. ^ "Opération Bruants ortolans – 2014". lpo.fr (in French). Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  25. ^ "Opération Bruant ortolan – 2015". lpo.fr (in French). Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  26. ^ "Braconnage des ortolans le nouveau Préfet des Landes confirme à la LPO que l'Etat de droit s'applique aussi dans son département – Actualités – LPO". lpo.fr (in French). Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  27. ^ "Ortalan Bunting, Emberiza hortulana factsheet" (PDF). EU Wildlife and Sustainable Farming project. European Commission. 2009.
  28. ^ "Unravelling migration connectivity reveals unsustainable hunting of the declining ortolan bunting". Science Advances. 2019.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]