“FOUR CALLING BIRDS…” CAN YOU FIND ONE ON ABACO?


Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

“FOUR CALLING BIRDS…” CAN YOU FIND ONE ON ABACO?

The Winter Solstice arrives today. The shortest day followed by the longest night of the year… then the serious business of Christmas. And some quality frivolity with it. So this will probably be my last post before then and possibly until next year, depending on available time, relative sobriety and other seasonal variables too numerous to mention…

Red-winged Blackbird.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom SheleyCALLING BIRDS? WHAT ARE THEY, EXACTLY?

“The Twelve Days of Christmas “is an old, old song, supposedly written in 1780, and popular ever since. Over time, the words have altered somewhat from the original. The ‘Calling Birds’ were originally ‘Colly (or Collie) Birds’, meaning, black birds. The word derives from the word ‘coal’. The change to ‘calling birds’ wasn’t noted until the early c20. One version I learnt as a child a few years decades later used ‘colly birds’. However the quaint usage quickly died out during the pernicious excesses of the 1960s which I obviously don’t remember because I wasn’t there…

European BlackbirdEuropean Blackbird (wiki)

Colly birds were – are – European blackbirds, song birds that bring joy. There are other black birds of course, but crows, ravens and the like have from medieval times been viewed as birds of ill-omen (lots of examples in Shakespeare). Hardly a Christmassy gesture to give one of them to your True Love, far less four. 

WHAT ABACO BIRD SHOULD I GIVE MY TRUE LOVE AFTER 5 GOLD RINGS?

Undoubtedly red-winged blackbirds. They are undeniably black birds. They have festively flashy markings. True, their ‘metal-gate-with-very-rusty-hinges’ grating call is not exactly melodious (and 4 red-legged thrushes on vocals would suit the occasion much better). But what a handsome present to give someone already trying to cope with the burden and general commotion of sundry Lords a’Leaping, Maids a’Milking, Drummers Drumming and so on. Much easier to deal with.

Red-winged Blackbird male 2 .Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

HOW MANY GIFTS WILL MY TRUE LOVE EXPECT FROM ME?

I’m afraid it will be 364 in total, with some items on the list becoming increasingly difficult to source. The breakdown (note in passing the mathematical symmetry of the increasing and correspondingly diminishing numbers) is as follows:

  • 12 partridges in pear trees
  • 22 turtle doves
  • 30 french hens
  • 36 calling birds
  • 40 golden rings
  • 42 geese a laying
  • 42 swans a swimming
  • 40 maids a milking
  • 36 ladies dancing
  • 30 lords a leaping
  • 22 pipers piping
  • 12 drummers drumming

But with any luck your TL would be happy to share a Kalik in the sunset instead of having all that palaver…

Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Happy Christmas** to all people kind enough to follow this blog or read it from time to time, and – why not – all the people who don’t and / or have no idea of its existence… Time to let Kermit & Elmo to take over. 

Photo credits, Tom Sheley (2, 3), Keith Salvesen / RH (1, 4), Wiki for the Eurasian blackbird

**The term ‘Christmas’ is used as a broad term to cover the midwinter holiday period – or indeed non-holidays for many – and is intended to include in a benign way those of any faith or none. I don’t ‘do’ Winterval, sorry…

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