The Twelve Days of Christmas – Day 4 – Four Calling Birds

The Fourth Day of Christmas – Four Calling Birds

Don’t forget to read my previous Posts about the History of the Carol and First Three Days of Christmas

The gift for The Fourth Day of Christmas has an interesting story

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


Most people interpret the words “calling birds” to mean one of the varieties of “song bird”

Misinterpretations have crept into the English-language version of the carol over the years.

In the original, the fourth gift was in fact “four colly birds”.

“Colly” was an alternative word for blackbird. The word “colly” means “black as coal”.


Who on earth, I hear you say, would want a Black Bird as a present, not to mention four of the creatures?

When you think of a black bird what type of bird springs to mind?

Personally, I think of the Australian Raven, commonly known as the Black Crow


Those of you in England may call to mind the common Carrion Crow, Raven, Rook or Jackdaw.

In Old English and in Modern English up until the 18th century, “bird” was used only for smaller or young birds while larger ones such as crows were referred to as “fowl”. At that time, the Blackbird was the only wide-spread and conspicuous “blackbird” in Europe and the British Isles.

The gift on the fourth day was therefore the Common Black Bird                                            

Picture from Wikipedia

The Common Blackbird is a species of true thrush.. It breeds in Europe, Asia and North Africa. It has been introduced into Australia and New Zealand. It is mainly confined to south-eastern Australia, in Victoria, where I now live and on the island of Tasmania.

The Common Blackbird was described by Linnaeus in his “Systema Naturae” in 1758 as Turdus merula. The name is derived from two Latin words, turdus,”thrush” and merula, “blackbird”. The latter gave rise to its French name “merle”.

There are about 65 species of medium to large thrushes in the genus Turdus, characterised by rounded heads, longish pointed wings and usually melodious songs. The adult male has glossy black plumage, blackish-brown legs, a yellow eye-ring and an orange-yellow bill. The adult female is sooty-brown with a dull yellowish-brown bill, a brownish white throat and some weak mottling on the breast.    

The Common Blackbird male’s song is a melodious low-pitched fluted warble, given from trees, rooftops and other higher perches.

The Common Blackbird was seen as a sacred, though destructive, bird in Classical Greek folklore.

It was immortalised in the famous Nursery rhyme, “Sing a song for Sixpence”,

written about 1744.


The Common Blackbird’s  melodious song is also recalled in more recent times with the Beatles song “Blackbird”    

So the gift of Four Colly Birds was not such a strange gift after all.

Doctor Bill


Other Posts in The Series:

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas Day 1

The Twelve Days of Christmas Day 2

The Twelve days of Christmas Day 3