Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana


Justification of Red List Category
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.

Population justification
In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 3,330,000-7,070,000 pairs, which equates to 6,660,000-14,100,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms c.80% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 8,325,000-17,625,000 mature individuals, placed here in the range 8,000,000-17,999,999 mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction. Between 1980 and 2013 the European population underwent a steep decline (EBCC 2015).


This species utilises a variety of breeding habitats, preferably situated in areas with a continental climate (many hours of sunshine and low rainfall). In the northern part of its range it occurs mainly in cultivated land, preferring low-intensity, mixed farmland on light soils, with sparsely vegetated spots and scattered or lines of trees or bushes. In forested areas of Fenno-Scandinavia and Russia, it occupies forest margins, clearings and clear fells. In the southern areas of its breeding range it occurs in rugged open mountainous areas with some shrubs up to 2,400 m asl (Hagemeijer and Blair 1997, Madge and Sharpe 2016). Eggs are laid from mid-April until early June. The nest is built by the female, often on the ground in a field of growing crops. The clutch consists of four or five eggs. The chicks hatch after 11–12 days, are tended by both parents and leave the nest after another 12–13 days. Autumn migration usually takes place from mid-August to mid-September (Madge and Sharpe 2016). During the breeding season the species mainly feeds on small invertebrates such as ants, beetles and grasshoppers, both on the ground and in bushes or the canopy of trees. Outside the breeding season it mainly forages on seeds. The species is migratory, wintering in the northern part of sub-Saharan Africa (Madge and Sharpe 2016).


The main pressure affecting populations of the species in Europe is the replacement of small-scale mixed farming by large-scale agricultural intensification, including the use of insecticides and herbicides. A reduction in bare patches for foraging and a lack of invertebrate-rich grassland at nesting areas appears to have significant impacts on the species (Menz and Arlettaz 2012). Ongoing conversion of relatively extensively used habitat to crop fields for biofuel is another issue. Other threats include isolation of the remaining populations (increased risk of extinction) as a consequence of habitat fragmentation as well as hunting and trapping of the species during migration (Hagemeijer and Blair 1997, Bernardy 2009).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
EU Birds Directive Annex I. The species is classified as Critically Endangered in the Red Data Book in the Netherlands (Hustings et al. 2004) and Switzerland (Keller 2010) and as Vulnerable in France (UICN France, MNHN, LPO, SEOF and ONCFS 2011). In Germany, Switzerland and Austria small-scale habitat restoration measures have been undertaken (Bernardy 2009).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Implement measures directed to the conservation/establishment of extensively used farmland areas outside protected areas. Compose an international species action plan including protection during migration and on wintering areas. Establish a ban on hunting and trapping of the species. Evaluate effectiveness of conservation measures (Bernardy 2009).


Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S., Ashpole, J

Dowsett, R.J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Emberiza hortulana. Downloaded from on 08/06/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 08/06/2023.