Christmas is coming, the goose is getting…well-fed! Birds seem to play a pivotal role in many traditional Christmas songs and stories. Most notably, the famous Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” prominently features several wild songbirds. As we near December 25th, we wanted to highlight the song’s true stars: the birds! Learn about the birds of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to make your Yuletide even merrier this year.
A Partridge (In a Pear Tree)
As the most recognizable line in the entire carol (“and a partridge in a pear tree”), the partridge is a standout in this song. There are actually 45 species of partridges around the world but the one the song refers to is the red-legged partridge. While partridges are native to southwestern Europe, some can be found in the north-central parts of the United States. Contrary to the lyrics in the song, partridges are not particular to eating pears. Instead, their diet consists of sunflower seeds, thistle, and seeds from wheat and barley. They also indulge in insects as well as leaves.
Two Turtle Doves
The European Turtle-Dove, found in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, is likely the species referred to by the popular carol. Unfortunately, this bird’s population is on the decline and is classified as a vulnerable species. The good news is that these birds can breed any time of year as long as there is a sufficient food supply, so the chances of them making a resurgence are high. The American version of the Turtle-Dove also goes by the name the Mourning Dove or Rain Dove, and is commonly found on telephone wires and other neighborhood perches.
Three French Hens
Although not a songbird, the French Hen is a staple of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and therefore deserves a feature. While we’re not quite sure which breed of the over 40 types of chickens the song was referring to, one thing is certain: they provide gifts in the form of plentiful eggs. Domestic chicken eggs are a major food source throughout all parts of the world.
Four Calling Birds
The “calling” birds in this song refers to the Eurasian blackbird. This black thrush is known for its beautiful voice and distinct call. Listen to it below!
Eurasian blackbirds are native to Eurasia and North Africa while common blackbirds can be found in western parts of the United States. No matter the continent, this bird favors wooded habitats, parks, gardens, and farmland with hedges. They also have a rather varied diet. These omnivores enjoy insects, earthworms, spiders, snails, berries, fruit, and seeds.
Six Geese A-Laying
It wouldn’t be a Christmas carol without geese making an appearance on the list. In addition to wild geese, there are also more than 125 domestic geese breeds, each of which can lay up to 20 eggs per year!
Seven Swans A-Swimming
This number makes the most sense in relation to swans, as there are 7 species all around the world, 3 of which live in North America: the Trumpeter Swan, the Tundra Swan, and the Mute Swan. Trumpeter and tundra swans are native to the US, while the mute swan is not. You’ll find these beautiful birds in shallow ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes in the Midwest and Great Lakes, as well as in some parts of the Northern Rockies.
Eleven Pipers Piping
Although the Christmas carol doesn’t specifically indicate that this is so, many believe the “Eleven Pipers Piping” lyric to be about shorebirds, pipers, and peeps of the Sandpiper species. It could also be referring to the piping plover, a sparrow-sized shorebird found along the gravel and coastal sand beaches of North America. Sadly, the piping plover is endangered due to habitat loss and degradation. Predators such as gulls, rats, cats, foxes, and raccoons also pose a threat. Birders are encouraged to visit the National Audubon Society for tips on how to protect the piping plover.
As Christmas nears, we here at Valley Farms® want to wish you all a very merry holiday season. May your celebrations be filled with health, happiness, and the sweet sounds of songbirds!