Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

The 12 Days of Christmas is a well known and loved song, but I’ve always been confused by the turtle doves and the partridge bit.

Turtle dove certainly breed in Britain but they are summer migrants so by December they would be far to the south in West Africa…. I understand the symbolism of the turtle doves – they stand for devoted love and it is even said two turtle doves were sacrificed at the birth of Christ.

However it’s just not clear to me how my true love would be able to get hold of the turtle doves for a northern Christmas!  (By the end of the song the recipient would have got 22 turtle doves not just too!) Can anyone shed any light on this? Perhaps they were kept as caged birds?

I have written about turtles doves before – see here because they are now in big trouble numbers have dropped massively in the last few decades. As a result Operation Turtle has been launched – see here.

turtle dove

So moving on … that now brings me to the partridge in a pear tree. This is all a bit odd too. Partridges are birds of arable farmland and don’t live in trees!

A bit of research may have solved this riddle. The words of the song have their origins in France and the French from partridge is perdix – so in all likelihood the confusion about the pear comes from the French perdix.

In Britain we think of the the grey partridge whereas in France they might have been thinking of the red-legged partridge and the latter has more of a tendency to roost in trees (but not of course necessarily pear trees)

Like the turtle dove the grey partridge is in bit trouble as a result of agricultural intensification – see here for more details.





One thought on “Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

  1. I don’t know about two turtle doves but I recently heard that the last line of the song is actually….:And a branch of a juniper tree”. Happy Christmas!


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