Dec 24 2010

Are you the “Partridge in a Pear Tree?”

Published by at 7:30 am under Beyond Bounds,Doves & Chickens


The Twelve Days of Christmas repeats the refrain that my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree. 

Being a birder I began to wonder, “What species of partridge are they talking about?”

My first thought was that Twelve Days is an English song so the partridge must be from England, but it’s more complicated than that. 

The words were published in England in 1780 but the tune is much older and is probably French.  The birds in the song might be English or French.  So who’s the partridge?

Probably this one.  The red-legged partridge is now common in England but was imported from France for hunting purposes, so he fits the bill.  One other trait makes him a likely candidate.

The gifts in the Twelve Days of Christmas are fantastic and extravagant.  (Imagine receiving eight maids-a-milking!)   The “partridge in a pear tree” is fantastic too because partridges are terrestrial birds who only fly when they have to.  It would be unusual to find one in a pear tree and I suspect it would be there only because it was frightened.

Of all the partridges in England and France, this one is the most likely to perch in a tree. 

So he’s probably the one my true love gave to me.

(photo from Wikipedia)

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Are you the “Partridge in a Pear Tree?””

  1. Marianneon 24 Dec 2010 at 8:19 am

    I have always wondered what the partridge looked like! This is a great and appropriate post for Christmas Eve!

  2. Donnaon 24 Dec 2010 at 10:32 am

    I hope everyone gets their partridge this year. Happy Holidays to all!

  3. Margeon 24 Dec 2010 at 8:55 pm

    Great holiday article, Kate. I just learned recently that the words were code for Catholics years ago and someone gave me the entire list and what each meant.

  4. Bill Parkeron 25 Dec 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Kate -
    BirdNote covered the same subject. Listen at http://www.birdnote.org/birdnote.cfm?id=495 for their version.
    Bill

  5. Mary DeVon 25 Dec 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Marge — Snopes says no.

    http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/music/12days.asp

    Oh well! Merry Christmas to all! Leah gave me a great binocular/camera combo — should be great for watching and recording our Oakland peregrine family :-)

  6. John Huntingtonon 24 Mar 2011 at 10:39 pm

    I would like to know what kind of bird this is.

  7. Kate St. Johnon 24 Mar 2011 at 10:43 pm

    John, the bird in your photo is probably a chukar. Chukars are stocked in the U.S. as game birds. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chukar_Partridge

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