Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana)

Ortolan Bunting

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Emberizidae | [latin] Emberiza hortulana | [UK] Ortolan Bunting | [FR] Bruant ortolan | [DE] Ortolan | [ES] Escribano Hortelano | [NL] Ortolaan


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

Relatively long-billed, rather round-headed, and rather plump bunting. Epitome of trio which also includes E. buchanani and E. caesia and displays in all plumages common characters of bright eye-ring, pale sub-moustachial stripe contrasting with dark malar stripe, and rufous or at least warm buff underparts.
Male shows diagnostic olive-toned head and breast isolating yellow throat. Female and immature less distinctive, requiring careful separation from allies.
Sexes dissimilar, little seasonal variation.

Listen to the sound of Ortolan Bunting

[audio:http://www.aviflevoland.nl/sounddb/O/Ortolan Bunting.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 23 cm wingspan max.: 29 cm
size min.: 16 cm size max.: 17 cm
incubation min.: 11 days incubation max.: 12 days
fledging min.: 12 days fledging max.: 12 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 6  


Eurasia : West, Central


Very varied, from high boreal through temperate, Mediterranean, and steppe zones, and to mountain zones at C 1500 – 2500 m in south of range. Attracted to trees, even breeding in forest glades and clearings, as well as pine forests, tree plantations, forest steppe with birch trees, slopes of low mountains overgrown with grass and small pistachio trees, and orchards. Contrastingly, occurs freely in steep ravines, on bare alluvial deposits, and on rocky ground scantily covered with prickly shrubs. Favours regions of high sunshine and low rainfall, regardless of latitude, and where food is readily available will spread widely over cultivated open land. Does not avoid banks of rivers and lakes but shows little attraction to wetlands, or to human settlement, especially cities.


Breeding starts Mid April to late June in Sweden, May to mid Juen in North West Russia, mid Apri to July in Spain, May-July in Israel. The nest site is built on the ground usually in cereals or other arable crop, often potatoes, frequently in depression in soil so top of nest-rim flush with ground, otherwise in vineyards, forest clearings, on rocky slopes, or in thick grass heather, sheltered by overhanging rock or foliage. The nest is mad of a foundation of stalks, stems, roots, and leaves lined with fine grasses, rootlets, and hair. Sometimes when flush with soil, cup has no real foundation, and rough material arranged wreath-like on ground. Clutch size 4-5 eggs, Incubation 11-12 days, by female only.

Feeding habits

Mainly invertebrates, also seeds, especially outside breeding season. Forages on bare soil or sprouting crops, but also in deciduous trees, especially oak, for defoliating caterpillars, or in pine for seeds. After breeding season very often in harvested root-crop fields and in areas covered with bird’s-foot.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Emberiza hortulana is a widespread summer visitor to much of Europe, which constitutes
>50% of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is very large
(>5,200,000 pairs), but underwent a large decline between 1970-1990. Although the
species was stable in some countries-most notably its Turkish stronghold-during
1990-2000, it continued to decline across much of Europe, and underwent a small
decline overall. Its population has clearly not yet recovered to the level that preceded
its decline.
This bunting inhabits major parts of Europe and western Asia. It winters in sub-Saharan Africa, from Guinea to Ethiopia. The population of the European Union (12 Member States) is estimated at 240000-300000 breeding pairs, 75-80% of which inhabit Spain. It is nevertheless undergoing a strong decline. It has already disappeared from many regions, and its distribution is increasingly fragmented
Ortolan Bunting status Least Concern


Long-distance migrant, wintering in subSaharan Africa, north of 5 degrees N. More reported from eastern than western areas of Africa; small numbers winter in southern Arabia. Wintering birds use open upland habitats at 1000-3000 m.
Autumn migration mostly inconspicuous; direction of movement from Fenno-Scandia and other parts of western Europe south-west (or SSW). Spring migration much more conspicuous in most areas. Passage through west and central Mediterranean late March to mid-May with most in 2nd half of April. Passage (or vagrant) birds in Britain and Ireland, mainly on North Sea coast, peak 1st half of May. Arrivals at breeding areas in Belgium and lower Rhine (Germany) from mid-April; main arrival in northern Sweden 2nd half of May. In Leningrad region, birds do not return until 2nd half of May and arrival prolonged into early June.

Distribution map

Ortolan Bunting distribution range map

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