The Ortolan bunting is a small seed-eating songbird found in Europe and Western Asia. The bird is widely used in French cuisine and due to this, its French populations dropped dangerously low, leading to laws restricting its use in 1999.
Ortolan buntings are native to most European countries and western Asia. Their range reaches as far north as Scandinavia and beyond the Arctic Circle. These birds are far-distant migrants and spend their winters in Africa. Ortolan buntings inhabit an open landscape with trees, sparse shrubs, and not very dense grassy vegetation. They prefer forest edges and thickets of bushes among the fields. These birds can also be found in gardens and cultivated areas.
Ortolan buntings are generally solitary, however, during the breeding season they may gather in small groups at important feeding spots. They are active during the day spending most of their time foraging. They hop along the ground in search of seeds and walk or run when pursuing beetles and other insects. If disturbed Ortolans usually fly to a low branch or fence. Their common call is a short "tsi" sound and the song of the males resembles that of the Yellowhammer but gentler and more melodic.
Ortolan buntings breed between mid-April and early June. They nest in separate pairs at a considerable distance from each other. However, sometimes pairs may nest together. Ortolans place their nest on the ground, hiding it in crops of cultivated cereals, perennial grasses, among the sparse grassy vegetation under a small bush or a bunch of grass. The nest is built from dry stems and leaves of cereals, thin roots, occasionally dry leaves. It is lined with roots, horsehair, and sometimes with feathers. The female lays 4-5 eggs and incubates them for about 11-12 days. The chicks hatch blind, helpless, and are fed and brooded by both parents. They remain in the nest for 10-13 days and start to learn flying a few days later.
The main threats to the Ortolan buntings include habitat loss which leads to the lack of suitable foraging and nesting areas, the use of insecticides in agricultural areas where these birds typically forage, and isolation of the remaining populations due to habitat fragmentation. Ortolan buntings are also heavily hunted and trapped during their migration.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Ortolan bunting is 8,000,000-17,999,999 mature individuals. In Europe, the breeding population consists of 3,330,000-7,070,000 pairs, which equates to 6,660,000-14,100,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.