Partridge in a Pear Tree: Bird Term of the Day

Definitions of words used by pet bird enthusiasts with the pet bird slant.

Definitions of words used by pet bird enthusiasts with the pet bird slant.

Partridge in a Pear Tree: This phrase is the first part of a Christmas carol called, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The song was first published in an English children’s book called “Mirth without Mischief” in 1780, but it had been around in its oral form for much longer. It has been hypothesized that the song is really of French origin.

First, what is a partridge in a pear tree? A partridge is an Old World bird from the order Galliformes. Its genus is Perdix, which is Greek for partridge. (Side note on the Greek myth: Perdix was the nephew of the famous Greek inventor Daedalus, who grew jealous of Perdix and threw him into the Acropolis of Athens. The goddess Athena changed him into a partridge as he fell. The partridge does not fly and builds its nest close to the ground because it remembers its great fall into the Acropolis.)

One theory is that it never was “partridge in a pear tree,” but rather “partridge, une perdrix.” Une perdrix is French for partridge. There is a French partridge that does like to perch up off the ground called the French partridge or red-legged partridge, so this could be true. Another theory is that partridge symbolizes Jesus and the song taught children catechism, but there is no definitive proof of this either. Not only do we not really know for sure if the first version did actually say, “partridge in a pear tree,” but different countries have different versions of the song. The Scottish version doesn’t even say partridge, but starts out as “The king sent his lady on the first Yule day, a popingo-aye what learns my carol and carries it away.” And “popingo” means … you guessed it – parrot.

Of course, when I tried to confirm this, I found the spelling to be “papingo” for parrot in a Gaelic dictionary. Other inconsistencies to note: the original version says “colly” birds, not calling birds. Colly birds are blackbirds. Also five golden rings might really have been referring to five ring-necked pheasants. In the end, all we may know for sure, is that someone who loved birds wrote a song about them. Everything else was just filler.

Bird Word of the Day

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