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FW: Birds of 12 Days of Christmas
- To: email@example.com
- Subject: FW: Birds of 12 Days of Christmas
- From: Burnetted@aol.com
- Date: Thu, 23 Dec 1999 09:43:35 EST
- Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org
Forwarded from BirdChat:
The Birds of the Song "The Twelve Days of Christmas"
Jeff and Amy Price (email@example.com)
Traditionally, the twelve days of Christmas occurred between Christmas and
Epiphany, a period often observed with celebrations. While the song "The
Twelve Days of Christmas" is often listed as a traditional medieval English
carol, it may have its roots in France. Over the centuries the song has
undergone many changes and some of the words Americans now sing are
apparently anglicizations of the originals. Amy and my interpretation of the
meaning of this song is that it represents the preparation for a party being
held on the evening of Twelfth Night.
What does this have to do with birds? Well, the first seven ‘gifts' are all
birds. We thought it would be fun to discuss which birds might actually be
represented in the song - as well as provide some wild North American
species that could be used in the song instead.
On the first day of Christmas . . .
The partridge in the song most likely refers to the Gray Partridge (Perdix
perdix), a species native to Britain. If the song originated in France it
could also refer to the Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa), a species
introduced to England in 1790 (after the song was written). While the Gray
Partridge has been successfully introduced into parts of North America, a
better choice might be one of the members of the grouse family - perhaps the
Sharp-tailed or Ruffed Grouse.
The two turtle doves given the second day probably refer to European
Turtle-Doves (Streptopelia turtur), a species found in England and France
during the summer months. While the closely related Spotted and Ringed
Turtle-Doves can be found in parts of North America, our most widespread
equivalent would be the Eurasian Collared-Dove. This species was introduced
into the Bahamas in 1974 and has now spread throughout much of the
Southeast. There is one record of the European Turtle-Dove from the Florida
Keys. Prefer a native species? The Mourning Dove could be substituted
We were unable to find any clues as to which type of chickens the three
French hens refer to. It has been hundreds of years since the Red Jungle
Fowl of India and Southeast Asia was first domesticated and became the
ancestor of all domestic chicken breeds. In this country a wild equivalent
would be the Greater or Lesser Prairie-Chicken.
Four colly birds. Many Americans have learned the words to the song as four
calling birds, an anglicization of four colly birds. Colly refers to soot or
coal black and a colly bird refers to the Blackbird (Turdus merula). The
Blackbird is actually a thrush, not a blackbird. As for their edibility,
remember the nursery rhyme with the words "four and twenty Blackbirds baked
in a pie." In North America the closest relative would be the American
Robin - a member of the genus Turdus, but not very black.
Five gulderers. Huh? Some experts think the phrase five golden rings is an
anglicization of the term gulderer. A gulderer typically refers to a turkey
or possibly a guinea fowl and goes better with the spirit of the song.
Turkeys were first carried to Europe from Mexico early in the 16th century;
first appearing in England in 1524. The Wild Turkey is widespread throughout
much of North America.
Six geese a-laying. Most domestic geese are descendants of the Greylag Goose
(Anser anser). While Greylag Geese can often be found in parks in North
America, a better wild alternative would be Greater White-fronted Goose. The
geese ‘a-laying' suggest that these birds weren't eaten but were given in
order to provide eggs for the party guests.
Seven swans a-swimming. The Mute Swan is widely used for ornamentation on
estates, such as those where a Twelfth Night party may have been held. Mute
Swans have been introduced and established in many parts of North America.
For a North American native equivalent choose the Trumpeter Swan(only found
in North America) or Tundra Swan (which is also found in England).
What about the rest of the song? Well the maids a-milking are providing
drinks for the party, the drummers drumming and pipers piping are the
musical entertainment, and the ladies dancing and lords a-leaping are the
We hope you enjoyed our interpretation of the song "The Twelve Days of
Christmas". We realize this is just one interpretation of a song that is
thousands of years old.
Jeff and Amy Price
The above material is copyrighted. It may be only be distributed
electronically in its entirety. It may not be published without permission
from the authors (ask, the answer is probably yes).
Jeff Price, Ph.D. firstname.lastname@example.org
Director of Climate Change Impact Studies
American Bird Conservancy
6525 Gunpark Drive, Suite 370
Boulder, CO 80301