Legend has it that the late French president Francois Mitterand ate an ortolan bunting for his last supper, and the bird has long been a popular delicacy enjoyed by France's elite. The animals are usually force fed for several weeks, drowned in Armagnac (a type of brandy produced in south west France) and then baked in the oven.
France made it illegal to hunt ortolan buntings in the late 1990s, but a new study published by Swedish science journal Ornis Svecica suggests that home cooks and restaurants are still ignoring the rules.
Researchers attached tracking devices known as geo loggers to birds in Sweden, a common mating ground for the species, which is declining across Europe. The technology was able to inform scientists exactly where the ortolan buntings flew to, by measuring both light and time.
The results confirmed previous theories that the majority of Swedish ortolan buntings pass by the resort of Les Landes in south west France before heading on to Africa.
“The study pinpoints the migration routes and suggests that poaching is still going on in France, where it seems that many of the birds end their journeys,” Robert Ekblom, Editor of Ornis Svenica told The Local.
“It is a shame because there is a lot of conservation work happening in Sweden to try and tackle the declining population here and if poaching is still going on in France then all of that is in vain.”
Asked if he was aware of any specific French restaurants serving the birds, he added: “I have heard that you can eat it in some restaurants, who get round it by not charging for the dish, but I don't know exactly which ones.”
“It could also be that it's being served up in the homes of the elite, yes, that is a possibility,” he added.
“People who have tried it say it tastes a bit like quail and is the best thing they have ever eaten.”
It is estimated that Sweden's ortolan bunting population has dropped by 15 percent in the last decade. Around 7,000 pairs of birds are currently believed to nest in the Scandinavian country.