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What is a 'calling bird' that is referenced in 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'?


Calling Bird

I received an interesting phone call today from the local newspaper. They knew that I was active in the “bird world” and that I raised parrots. They presented me with an interesting question: “What is a Calling Bird” and “How much does it cost to get one?". He went on to explain that he was doing a story for the local newspaper about how much it would cost to purchase ALL the items from the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. It is not hard to figure out what golden rings and turtle doves are, but it's a little tougher to determine what a 'Calling Bird' is and where a 'true love' would go to purchase them.

The Answer

The ‘calling birds’ in the song is a variation of the word ‘colly’ or ‘collie bird. The definition of ‘colly’ is ‘black’ and came from the old word for coal. So simply put, a ‘calling bird’ is a blackbird.

The ‘common blackbird’ is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. These birds have a life expectancy of only 2.4 years, although the oldest ‘blackbird’ on record was a little over 21 years old. This data was collected by the banding of these wild birds.

The ‘common blackbird’ can be quite territorial especially during breeding season which is much like the parrots in our homes. The males are very quick to protect their breeding territory and the females are quite aggressive in their competition for a suitable nesting area. The female ‘blackbirds’ do not fight as often as the males, but when they do – the fight tends to be more violent than that of the male ‘blackbird’.

The ‘blackbird’ is known for its melodic flute like calls. Their songs would be a little more soothing than the calls of the typical household parrot. The ‘blackbird’ starts singing in late January in order to establish their nesting territory. Two of the subspecies of the ‘blackbird’ have even been known to mimic other sounds such as other birds, alarms and even humans.

Feeding the common blackbird would be quite a challenge if we had them living in our homes. These birds are omnivores and eat their fare share of insects and worms. They are obviously what is known as a ‘ground feeder’. They will even eat small critters like frogs, tadpoles and lizards. Feeding a parrot is much more conducive to MY lifestyle!


Four Calling Parrots

Needless to say, I wasn’t much help in finding the cost of a ‘blackbird’ for the gentleman on the phone. I am still unsure as to why someone would want to give their ‘true love’ these ‘calling birds’. I personally would prefer that if 'my true love' wanted to send me some birds, that he send me 'four calling parrots'.

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Frank Rochfort. on January 02, 2017:

Apologies. Colling means "embracing", not " to embrace".

To coll is to embrace. See Oxford Dictionary, Free Dictionary and others.

Colling birds are embracing birds, not songbirds or blackbirds.

Coley, colly or coly birds are blackbirds, which are songbirds, but that's a different matter.

Francis Rochfort on January 02, 2017:

Colling. To embrace. see Greater Oxford Dictionary

Susan Ungrey (author) from Grand Rapids, Michigan on March 08, 2014:

A songbird is a bird belonging to the clade Passeri of the perching birds (Passeriformes). Another name that is sometimes seen as scientific or vernacular name is Oscines, from Latin oscen, "a songbird". This group contains some 4,000 species found all over the world, in which the vocal organ typically is developed in such a way as to produce a diverse and elaborate bird song.

Garth Miles on March 06, 2014:

The birds were originally neither calling birds or colly birds.

They were COLLING birds, the alternative name for love birds of the genus Agapornus.

Grace on December 28, 2012:

does n' t have what I needed

Mike on January 29, 2012:


Lori J Latimer from Central Oregon on December 09, 2010:

Thank you for sharing this experience. Very interesting. The best to you and your feathered friends.

MommyMarissa on December 09, 2010:

Awesome! Thanks for the info.

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