birding-aus Colly-birds

To: birding-aus posts <>
Subject: birding-aus Colly-birds
From: David McDonald <>
Date: Thu, 16 Dec 1999 22:17:51 +1100
I asked the question: what is a 'colly-bird' in the context of the
traditional English song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas':
'On the  fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
four colly-birds, three French hens, two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.'

The list and I received a range of responses, including this gem: 'A
colly bird is one that perches on cauliflowers', and a number of
unequivocal statements that the words of the song are actually 'calling
birds' not 'colly-birds' (just sing it to yourself; the two merge into

So, in the absence of a response from Competition Winner Harvey Perkins,
I decided to answer my own question.

The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary published the section
covering 'colly' in October 1891. It reveals that 'colly' is, or was, an
old English word meaning black, from 'coal'. And, it says, a
'colly-bird' is the Blackbird.

So ... this Christmas you may care to sing 'four colly-birds...' rather
than 'four calling birds...', and maybe Turdus merula will sing along
with you!

Have a good one!

David McDonald
PO Box 1355, Woden ACT 2606, Australia
Tel: +61 2 6231 8904 (h); +61 2 6249 5618 (w)
Fax: +61 2 6249 0740

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