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Something Wild: 12 Birds of Christmas ... NH-Style!

Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

'Tis the season for Christmas carols but at Something Wild one in particular captures our attention: The Twelve Days of Christmas. There are a lot of birds featured in the song but, like so many of our carols, the lyrics are from old Europe and don’t really speak to life in 21st century New England. So we thought maybe it’s time for an update… a rewrite… a New Hampshire Christmas carol.


We’ll skip over days twelve through eight – those all have to do with crafts people and artisans – and jump right to the important stuff – the BIRDS!

Seven Swans A-Swimming

  We don’t have to make any drastic changes to the swimming swans.  Mute Swans live year round in NH.  You can see them a-swimming along the shores of the Great Bay in the winter.  They are in fact the same species as the one in the song, imported from Europe beginning in the late 1800s. We’ll get a little more specific with our lyric and humbly submit: 

Credit Rebecca Siegel

Six Geese A-Laying

This one seems pretty straight-forward; probably referring to a domesticated breed of goose providing food for the household.  Though there are very few goose farmers in NH these days, Canada geese have become common winter residents in New Hampshire recently.  The Granite State used to be simply a stop over for them during migration. While many still migrate, a subset of the population manages to get by even in our cold, snowy winters.  So we’ll modify this one to…

Credit William Pitcher

Five Gold Rings

That brings us to the fifth day of Christmas. “Gold rings” doesn’t seem to have anything to do with birds, but some historians think that those rings actually refer to ring-necked birds! And in NH, we have only one such bird: the ring-necked pheasant. While theirs is a bold white neck ring, the males have beautiful bright golden plumage – and can run like the Dickens! This makes them rather popular with bird hunters. In fact, most pheasants in the state are here solely because NH Fish and Game stocks them for hunters. That leaves us with…

Credit Steven Kersting

Four Calling Birds

“Calling birds” seems to imply we should look for a resident song bird but the original lyric is actually “Colly bird,” referring to a bird the color of coal. Blackbirds, grackles, and cowbirds would fit the bill, but most of New Hampshire’s blackbirds migrate out of state in the fall. Crows, on the other hand, mostly stick around and seem to get by just fine. And with that, our calling birds become a quartet of crows…

Credit OvO

Three French Hens

You see plenty of domestic chickens around the state, like New Hampshire Reds. And not just on farms! More and more cities are allowing residents to keep the only pet that will make you breakfast.

Credit Adam Jackson

Two Turtle Doves

On the penultimate day of Christmas we are introduced to a European breed that never crossed the Atlantic. Instead, here in NH, when you look out at your feeder on Christmas morning you’ll see mourning doves. These birds are named for the melancholy hooting sound of their call.

Credit Richard Crook
Two Mourning Doves

A Partridge In A Pear Tree

Here we have to go with the ruffed grouse. There’s nothing more NH in this whole list than the idea of a ruffed grouse, and in the North Country they’re more typically referred to as partridges. As for the pear tree, there is no better replacement than the Aspen. Trembling aspen, known as poplar, is not only found all over New Hampshire, it’s also kind of a supermarket for wildlife. Deer and moose chew on the bark, smaller mammals like mice feast on its twigs, and the ruffed grouse loves the Aspen’s energy-packed buds. 

Imagine a winter eve, as the dying sun casts a rosy glow across the landscape, the grouse flies up into the aspen to nip off a few more buds before plunging to the ground, burrowing into the deep snow for the night.  

Credit Eugene Beckes

The carol, uninterrupted! Thanks NYMMT!

We hope you enjoyed our New Hampshire take on the 12 Days of Christmas. We send thanks to our friends at Not Your Mom’s Musical Theater for providing such fine musical accompaniment. You can hear Jocelyn Duford, Mario Arruda, Jessica Plummer, Sheree Owens, and Jamie Feinberg perform our Granite State carol with a little help from their audience at the Littleton Opera House below.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
Chris Martin has worked for New Hampshire Audubon for over 31 years as a Conservation Biologist, specializing in birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons.

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