And No Partridge in a Pear Tree

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You’ve heard the words at least a hundred times, but really, can you remember all 12 items in the popular, 200-year-old English Christmas song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas?” 

Who’s dancing again, the lords or the maids? Almost everyone, though, remembers the last line, “and a partridge in a pear tree.” 

If trends continue in merry old England, the partridge will only be a bird sung about in a carol. Partridges, along with turtle doves (of which there are three in the song), are on the decline. “The Guardian” reports, “Partridges and turtle doves are disappearing from the countryside at such alarming rates that without urgent action the species may cease to exist in the UK outside the verses of the festive classic, scientists have warned.” 

According to the Wildlife Trust in the U.K., the grey partridge sits on top of the list of Great Britain’s most endangered species. “The Guardian” reported that partridge numbers went down almost 30 percent, and turtle doves plummeted almost 60 percent between 2005 and 2010. 

And why? I’m sure you can guess. The Wildlife Trust of the United Kingdom listed these factors:

  • Break in food chain caused by the increased use of insecticides and herbicides, killing the insects that are vital for the young birds' diet.
  • Vulnerability of young to predators as they have to travel farther to find food
  • Intensive farming has led to fewer suitable nesting sites, e.g.: hedgerows and other habitats have been destroyed or degraded causing increased predation.
  • Population numbers are susceptible to wet weather during late spring which causes death to young.
  • Reduction in spring-sown cereals, which cause a loss in winter stubble fields that could be available as a food source. 

Various conservation and other wildlife organizations are working to protect the partridge and turtle dove populations. 

What about the other birds listed in the song? 

According to “The Guardian,” some of the birds mentioned also are in decline, while others are doing just fine. 

  • Three French hens – France has seen a decline of 20 percent in the poultry market between 1998 and 2011 
  • Four colly birds (What? You thought it was “calling birds?”) – Those are actually blackbirds, and we all know you cannot get rid of them 
  • Five gold rings – Probably “five goldspinks,” or goldfinches in English, which have increased more than 120 percent since 1970 
  • Six geese a layin’ – Greylags and pink-footed geese are good, but the white-fronted goose is in decline 
  • Seven swans a swimmin’ – No problem, in fact, they doubled their population since 1983 

Oh, and for the record, if you were to purchase all 12 items, full retail, it would cost about £67,000, which today equals $107, 334.