“On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree“
For no better reason that it is a song that features several birds and is sung at this time of year, I looked up the history of ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’. The carol was first published in 1780 and has appeared in several guises and languages (1). The one printed above is the modern English version.
While the carol lists swans, geese, French hens, turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree as gifts, it is the ‘four calling birds’ that caught my attention. The phrase suggests song birds of some sort, and so it proves. In the original version, they appeared as ‘four colly birds’ meaning coal-black birds, so most likely blackbirds (Turdus merula). However, Halliwell recorded it as ‘four canary birds’ in his Nursery Rhymes of England (1842), an interpretation that was endorsed by Rimbault in 1846.
That’s good enough for me. ‘Four canary birds’ is my version of choice, even if Halliwell reverted to ‘colly birds’ in his 1853 edition. Spoil sport.
My gifts are canaries too, or at least photographs of them. In keeping with the festive spirit, here are my twelve birds of Christmas (2). You can place them in any order you like.
A merry Christmas and a happy New Year to my readers.
- Most of the historical information is derived from the Wikipedia page on The Twelve Days of Christmas.
- I don’t breed birds in large numbers. The twelve Lizard canaries you see above represent over half of my 2021 crop.