An Ortolan, what is that?

The Ortolan is a little sparrow-sized bird belonging to the family of the field sparrow. It is 16-centimetre long, has a 26-centimetre wingspan and is up to 27-gram heavy. Despite its lightweight measurements, our Ortolan is able to migrate for more than 7 000 kilometres from its reproduction area to its wintering one. To get more information about the field sparrow Ortolan, go to Wikipedia webpage.

Plus d'infos : Wikipedia entry about the Ortolan bird (french)

Return to Top

Why is it protected?

The Ortolan belongs to a protected species due to the fact that its number has been suffering an important decrease since the fifties. It has already disappeared in many French departments and regions. Over the last 30 years, its overall population has dropped of 84% which makes it become the most endangered sparrow in Europe.

There are numerous reasons explaining this extinction. That can be partly explained with the alteration of the agricultural landscape.

Return to Top

Hunting the Ortolan bird, is it illegal?

For sure, its hunting has become illegal in France since 1979 and the species was protected in 1999. This is the main reason for the environmental protection associations to protest every year in August and September in the French Landes - indeed, the legislation is still not enforced!

The Article L411-1 of the Environment Code mentions all interdictions regarding the devastation, transport, use, holding, and trade of protected species.

The law decision of October the 29th is the latest version of the list regarding protected birds in France and as far as we know it, the Ortolan bird is still on it!

Return to Top

What are the penalties?

Penalties including a fine of 15 000€ and a one-year sentence can be given to any people practicing Ortolan poaching , and its trade.

Yet, few are the sanctions enforced and poaches are far from getting maximum penalties even if the infringement is important. Just take the example happened in 2008. Indeed, only a 2 900-euro penalty was given after discovering 119 Ortolan birds and 924 finches and linnets (protected birds as well) into a poach’s freezer.

The Article L415-3 of the Environment Code mentions the penalties which should be applied.

Return to Top

Why isn’t legislation enforced?

That’s a very good question… On the one hand, poaches disagree with this legislation, so they don’t want to respect it. Just imagine that you disapprove the speed limit of 50km/h within a city and therefore you decide to drive your car at 80km/h. Then Policemen should normally stop you and give you a fine. On the other hand, the infringers are pretty rarely sanctioned.

So what is going on with the Police? It seems that nothing really happens. Everything is done following an illegal and tacit approval between poaches and the ones supposed to be enforcing the legislation. The parallel is the same regarding a city where policemen would let people run red lights without any problem.

Then, we can only note that nowadays tacit and tolerated approvals based on oral consents exist in the French Landes and those ones seem to come from the Prefect of Landes towards the poaches.

As incredible as it can be, the Ortolan poaching is a political issue. And just as a reminder mixing dread and smile, have a look at this broadcast screened on TV in 2007.

Return to Top

Why do we want to prevent this tradition?

Our aim isn’t to prevent this tradition. In this case, stopping the tradition would lead to the respect of the French legislation and as a result it would follow our will to protect this species. However, all traditions don’t have to be continued in the long term. We need to adapt ourselves to our times, meaning that if a current practice isn’t appropriate any longer, it seems obvious to get rid of it.

The Ortolan poaching’s tradition is now in apparent conflict especially with regard to conservation status in France and in Europe. According to the Annex 1 of the EU “Birds Directive”, the Ortolan species is placed on the red list in all European countries. In Finland, the Ortolan bird is said to be an “endangered species”. In France it is on the “red list” and is mentioned being more particularly vulnerable during its nesting period or endangered during its migration.

Return to Top

Where are those figures from?

The figures regarding the number of Ortolan birds come from studies made on those birds. Nowadays, the population of Ortolan birds in Europe is estimated to be around 1.2 to 1.5 million.

Figures regarding the number of birds being victims of poaching are based on past observations and on hunters’ claims – more especially their exemption request which was officially refused as was the case with the Finch in 2013. Thanks to these observations, we can estimate an approximate 1 000 to 1 500 number of poaches and about 30 000 of Ortolans killed each year.

Year after year we have been able to estimate the sales price of an Ortolan following people’s statements. An Ortolan Bird is potentially sold around 100 to 150 euros each, however as it is officially illegal we may understand that restaurant owners don’t mention it on their menu. Then it seems difficult to be sure about the real price.

In a documentary dated from 2002, the reporter could develop some interesting observations :

“It is forbidden by the European Union […] but we are in France so you do know what they think about the laws.”
“Just for one bird, it’s 35 pounds but if it had to be served in a restaurant, that would be around 100 pounds then.”

Here under is a self-assured answer told by a French guest questioned about this cruel process :

“Ortolans are killed drowned into Armagnac, which is not an awful way to die”

Watch the report : Clarkson eats an Ortolan bunting

Return to Top

How is the European situation regarding it?

Regarding the Ortolan and its species, a new study is currently being carried out but it appears that birds migrating to France come from Germany and Scandinavia. Those birds are said to be very vulnerable (moreover those countries have funded schemes to protect their birds), therefore we can deeply regret to see these birds being killed illegally in our country.

From the side of the French Legislation, as the hunting of Ortolan is strictly forbidden but seems not to be taken into account , France is currently threatened with severe sanctions by the European Court. Every year, promises are made to make people respect the laws in France but nothing is actually done.

Return to Top

How can I get into action?

Every year in France, the LPO (Protected Birds League) stands in the French Landes to condemn the Ortolan poaching.

You have the possibility to hear and read about their actions on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Moreover, you can also sign up to support LPO.

Finally, the opportunity to write to the Minister of the Interior is offered to you by downloading an example of letter in PDF or in printable document.

Return to Top