Ortolan Bunting

Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana

Type of Animal:

Cultivated land (i.e. cornfields), open fields, farmland on light soil w/ sparsely vegetated/open areas for feeding & bushes/trees/artificial perches (for songposts), uplands, mountainous areas to 7,874 ft, rugged gully-strewn countryside, forest margins/clearings/clear fells, scrubland, towns, feeds in sparsely vegetated/open areas

Much of Europe, Turkey, Caucasus, Israel/Lebanon border, far N Syria, Iraq, & Iran, W Russia, N Kazakhstan, Far NW China, W Mongolia, part of N Algeria. Winters in pockets of W, C, & E Africa. Sometimes seen in British Isles.

Male has greenish-gray head, yellow mustache/eyering/throat, chestnut belly, intricately marked upper body, earth brown streaked rump. Females/juveniles duller in pattern w/ less chestnut & more spots.

Seeds & insects (mainly beetles)

Status in Wild:

Laws in France restricting use in cuisine, European Union prohibiting killing/capture of birds, egg collection, & disturbing these birds

Flocks of 2-6

Additional Info:

Male: Cock
Female: Hen
Young: Chick
Group: Flock
Male: 0.95 oz
Female: 0.74 oz
2 weeks 

Life Span:
3 years

Male: 6.7 in
Female: 6.3 in

Body Length:
Male: 6.7 in
Female: 6.3 in

Tail Length:
3 in, same for both sexes

Due to numbers declining in France, ortolan hunting was banned in 1999.
Typically nests near ground.
While common, potential threats include hunting for food/eggs, habitat loss, agricultural practices, & climate change.

Fun Fact(s):
Former French president Francois Mitterrand’s last New Years Eve meal shortly before his January 1996 death included this bird.
Famous chef Anthony Bourdain described consumption of these birds in opening to 2010 book Medium Raw.
Typically, birds caught w/ nets set during fall migratory flight to Africa. They’re then kept in covered cages/boxes. Birds react to dark by gorging on seeds until bulk doubled. Sometimes, birds blinded. Then, they’re thrown in Armagnac, drowning/marinating birds.
New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne made $300 winning bid in auction for dinner for 2, selecting Chez Denis in Paris for $4000 meal that included these birds.
Sometimes served in French cuisine (cooked & eaten whole)-diners cover heads w/ napkin/towel. Some claim it’s to retain maximum aroma w/ flavor as entire bird consumed at once. Others say it’s to shield this act from God while others claim it’s to hide diners spitting out bones.

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