Dec 24 2010
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)