Coli Bird

The Fourth Day of Christmas - "Calling" Birds - We Got it Wrong!

by Sally Blanchard

You know that famous Christmas song that we all know with all the gifts that were given during the 12 days? Well, part of it is probably wrong.


On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves 
and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Three French hens, two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.


This is where it goes wrong ... the words were actually 'four coli birds' or maybe 'four colly birds' and not 'four calling birds.'

So what is a coli bird?  It is a bird in the order Coliiformes, now called a mousebird from sub-Saharan Africa. It is believed that these birds are closely related to parrots and for hundreds of years, they have been kept as cage and aviary birds mostly in Europe. Mousebirds have grayish brown fur-like feathers and are slim bodied birds of about 45-50 grams and are just about a foot long including their not so proportionately long tail. Evidently they got the name mousebird because of their coloration and the fact that they scurry along tree branches in the same manner as rodents. 

Now there are also people who believe that it is supposed to be 'four colly birds' referring to the European blackbird (which is related the American robin and not the American blackbirds.) Colly is a word that has to do with coal mines and can be defined as "black as coal." The European blackbird is the one mentioned as the pie ingredient in English nursery rhyme, Sing a Song of Sixpence.

Sing a song of sixpence.
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds.
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn't that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?

So in the Christmas song is it supposed to be 4 mousebirds or 4 European blackbirds? I don't really know because I find statements that it could be one or the other one, but I know that the way it was originally written, it isn't supposed to be '4 calling birds.' 

I was born on the twelfth day of Christmas but I never got any drummers drumming??


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