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What Is a Calling Bird From "The 12 Days of Christmas"?

Susan raises parrots and has an interest in all kinds of birds.

Is there such a thing as a calling bird? Well, yes and no! Learn what this song lyric really refers to.

Is there such a thing as a calling bird? Well, yes and no! Learn what this song lyric really refers to.

Four Calling Birds: What Does That Mean?

I once received an interesting phone call from the local newspaper. The reporter knew that I was active in the “bird world” and that I raised parrots. He presented me with some interesting questions: “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 isn't hard to figure out what golden rings and turtledoves are, but it's a little tougher to determine what a "calling bird' is and where a true love would go to purchase four of them.

Calling Birds Are Actually "Colly Birds" or Blackbirds

The "calling bird" in the song is a variation on the word "colly bird" or "collie bird." The definition of colly is "black," and it comes from the old word for coal. So, simply put, a calling bird is a blackbird.

About the Common 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. The males are 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 fights tend to be more violent than that of the males.

Feeding the common blackbird would be quite a challenge if we had them living in our homes. These birds are omnivores and eat their fair share of insects and worms. They are ground feeders, and they will even eat small critters like frogs, tadpoles, and lizards.

Why Was the Blackbird Chosen for This Song?

The blackbird is known for its melodic, flute-like calls, and perhaps that's why it's mentioned in the lyrics. The blackbird starts singing in late January in order to establish its 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. So, those "calling" birds would have some very lovely and interesting calls for the true love to listen to!

Would Your True Love Really Want Blackbirds?

Needless to say, I wasn’t much help in finding the cost of a blackbird for the gentleman on the phone. Despite their flute-like calls, I am still unsure as to why someone would want to give a blackbird to their true love, much less four of them.

If my true love wanted to send me some birds, I would personally prefer that he send me four calling parrots! The blackbird's call is more soothing than the typical noise of a parrot, but parrots are a lot easier to feed. As a parrot-raiser, I might be biased. But I might also be on to something!

An Alternate Explanation: "Colling Birds" Are Lovebirds

There's an alternate explanation for the word "calling": It may have been originally spelled "colling," which is a dialectal word that means "embracing." So, "colling birds" may have actually referred to lovebirds! It sounds very apt to give one's true love a gift of two pairs of devoted lovebirds, doesn't it?

Is this what four "colling" birds actually look like? Maybe so!

Is this what four "colling" birds actually look like? Maybe so!

Forget blackbirds or lovebirds—it's four calling parrots for me!

Forget blackbirds or lovebirds—it's four calling parrots for me!

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Read More From Holidappy

How Much Would All Those Gifts Really Cost?

  • "The Twelve Days of Christmas" Items and Their Cost
    Every year, the prices of the items in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" song change. These are the prices established by the PNC Wealth Management Christmas Index for Christmas 2021. Four gifts had to be eliminated because of COVID-19.


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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