from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A small brownish bunting (Emberiza hortulana) of Eurasia and Africa, eaten as a delicacy.
  • noun Any of several American birds, such as the bobolink and the sora.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A gardener.
  • noun The garden-bunting, Emberiza hortulana, a small granivorous conirostral bird of the family Fringillidæ, inhabiting parts of Europe and Africa, highly esteemed as a table delicacy.
  • noun Some small bird like or likened to or mistaken for the ortolan.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun A European singing bird (Emberiza hortulana), about the size of the lark, with black wings. It is esteemed delicious food when fattened. Called also bunting.
  • noun In England, the wheatear (Saxicola œnanthe).
  • noun In America, the sora, or Carolina rail (Porzana Carolina). See sora.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A small European migratory bunting, Emberiza hortulana, once eaten whole as a delicacy.
  • noun US Any of various similar birds, especially the bobolink, sora, or snow bunting.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun brownish Old World bunting often eaten as a delicacy


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[French, from Provençal, gardener, ortolan, from Latin hortulānus, from hortulus, diminutive of hortus, garden; see gher- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle French hortolan ("gardener"), from Latin hortulānus ("gardener").


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word ortolan.



Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • Horrifying.

    September 21, 2007

  • It's been considered a delicacy for centuries. Um. *hands*

    September 21, 2007

  • Still horrifying.

    September 21, 2007

  • And yet perversely fascinating!

    September 21, 2007

  • Eeyew.

    October 2, 2007

  • Unadulterated Ceres shall be our official caterer: when hunger shall have tamed our fastidious appetites into sobriety, a mumbled crust will relish like an ortolan.

    - Lesage, The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane, tr. Smollett, bk 9 ch. 9

    October 8, 2008

  • Colleen's link is unfortunately now unavailable.

    "The ortolan is an almost mythical creature of French gastronomy. A migratory songbird the size of your thumb, it became just another illegal substance in the '70s, in part due to its preparation: take one 60g bird, force-feed it grapes and figs, drown in armagnac, roast.

    Eating it is wreathed in ritual and folklore. After placing an embroidered cloth over your head to cover your eyes, the bird is held by the beak and consumed whole. It's said to be a culinary epiphany. Former French president Francois Mitterrand ate ortolan as part of his last great meal on New Year's Eve 1995, a week before his death."

    - Simon Thomsen, 'Bistro Ortolan',, 17 Nov 2006.

    October 30, 2008

  • "The only thing that tops kopi luwak coffee in terms of both squickiness and poshness is ortolan, a thankfully very rare French speciality."

    July 14, 2015