By Fouad Itani,
The Ortolan bunting (Emberiza hortulana) is a small passerine bird of the bunting family Emberizidae. It measures 17 cm in length and has an average weight of 23 g.
The male is greenish with a yellow streaked throat and upper part, as well as orange underparts. The female is much duller with a finely streaked crown and upper breast.
Ortolans are ground-dwelling buntings that feed on seed and will offer their young insects as a source of protein. Their nests are usually placed on the ground or placed low in bushes and small trees. They lay an average of 4 eggs that are incubated for 12 days and in two weeks time the young will leave the nest.
Ortolan bunting (Emberiza hortulana), Jabal el Sheikh, Lebanon, August 2015. By Fouad Itani
Even though hunting and capturing the Ortolan bunting is banned, lots of EU and Middle eastern countries including Lebanon still hunt and capture the Ortolan bunting.
Traditionally in some European countries these delicate songbirds are captured alive using traps and nets, force-fed, drowned in Armagnac, then roasted and eaten whole. The customary way of eating Ortolan, involves the diner covering his head with a large napkin to preserve the precious aromas and, some believe, to hide from God the shame of such a disgraceful act.
In Lebanon, the Ortolan bunting is considered to be a scarce migrant breeder from late March till July, and widespread on passage during spring and autumn migration.
Lots of Lebanese hunters consider the arrival of the first flocks of the Ortolan buntings at the end of August as a sign of the opening of the hunting season.