Ortolan Bunting

The Ortolan or Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana), is a bird of the bunting family Emberizidae. 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 reaches as far north as Scandinavia and beyond the Arctic Circle, frequenting corn-fields and their neighborhoods.

The Ortolan is 6.25 inches in length and weighs about 0.75 ounces. In appearance and habits it much resembles its congener the Yellowhammer, but lacks the bright coloring of that species. The Ortolan’s head, for instance, is greenish-gray, 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.

The species is in decline in at least ten European countries, although the total population is estimated in 400,000-600,000 pairs. Reasons for its decline include habitat degradation, reduction of nesting areas, and changes in the agricultural landscape. Hunting is also responsible for taking about 50,000 birds per year.

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