Monday, December 8, 2008

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

The traditional English Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, lists many domestic folw, reflecting the significance of domestic birds. It was first printed in the 1780 children’s book, Mirth Without Mischief, but it was much older by that time, according to the fact-based site The fact that three French versions exist suggests that it may have originally been a French carol. The partridge memorialized in the First Day was not introduced into England from France until the late 1770s, shortly before the carol was committed to print and published.

Some of the words have changed over the years: On Day Four, the ‘calling’ birds were originally ‘collie’ or ‘colley’ birds, meaning black as coal. The gold rings of Day Five were ring-necked pheasants. Those original meanings unify the verses around a bird motif.

The gray or English partridge was introduced to North America around the turn of the 20th century from its native Eurasia. It has adapted well and is now fairly common in North America. They are hardy birds, able to survive cold winter conditions in the Midwest and Canada. They aren’t much for flying, with a stocky body and short, round wings. Most flights are low, at eye level and shorter than 100 yards. They are 12-13 inches long with a wingspan of 21-22 inches and weigh about one pound.

The hens may lay as many as 22 eggs in a clutch and hatches of 16-18 are common. They are not usually raised as domestic birds.

This photo was taken by Terry Sohl on June 10, 2008 in Minnehaha County, South Dakota.


Amy - "Twelve Acres" said...

I've always wondered why there were so many birds referenced in that Christmas carol! Thanks for answering all those nagging questions. And I've wondered what a partridge really looks like. Now I know. It's interesting how "colley" was changed to "calling".

Mike & Amy said...

Very interesting! Thanks for the great post!