Can You Name the 13 Birds of Christmas?

Winter time brings a variety of animals into our thoughts like reindeer, polar bears, and snow rabbits. Even birds come to mind, especially during this season. Can you name the 13 most famous birds of Christmas?

You can easily get five by singing the carol first published in 1780, then put to music by English composer Frederic Austin in 1909: The Twelve Days of Christmas. Let us list them out: partridge, turtle doves, French hens, geese, and swans. Well, since we are not in England, I have translated the European versions to those commonly found in the United States: Gray Partridge (Perdix perdix), Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura), French Hen (Gallus gallus), Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens,) and Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator). 

A sixth, calling birds, cause wonder as to the species. Actually, the original lyric came to be four colly birds. Colly described the coal black color of the birds. The popular American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) frequents woodlands and gardens with its colly color and melodious call.

four calling birds

You are halfway there with the first, second, third, fourth, sixth, and seventh verses covered. The balance calls for a bit of imagination, but is still attainable. Five gold rings may come from the Scottish yoldring, a name for their Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella). The closest to that in the US is the Yellow-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus) aka Yellowhammer, the state bird of Alabama. However, not even the original children’s chant refers to that. For fun’s sake, let us say it is true. Now, we have seven of twelve birds.

five gold rings

For eight maids a milking we can rely on the Eastern Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus) to play this role. This bird is a nightjar found in the eastern US. Old folktale claims that the nightjar latches on to the teats of a goat at night to suck the milk. OK. That is a stretch, but it works.

eight maids a milking

Nine ladies dancing can only be the Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) performing their elegant mating dance. The dance combined with the courtship call in duet conjure up an ornithological ballet. For ten lords a-leaping, we have a variety of leaping birds. Some call it hopping, but let us consider it a leap in the bird world.  Of all the leapers, my favorite is the Blue Jay (Cyanocitta crostata) simply because of his Lord-ly manner around others. 

At last we come to 11 pipers piping and and 12 drummers drumming. The Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), in fact, does have a call similar to pipers piping. The woodpecker is a drummer with our most common one being the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).

Oh, wait. I said thirteen. Let me leave you with the Christmas bird that does not make the song list, but everyone knows … the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). Adorner of snowy winter scenes, perched amongst the holly leaves, prevalent on holiday cards, this ranks as the most famous Christmas bird of all.

Happy Holidays!!!

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