Stories from the Barn
A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands
Partridge in a Pear Tree
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
Advent – Day16
A partridge in a pear tree is one of the most unlikely pairings, if you will pardon the pun. The British grey partridge is a bird whose numbers have declined but much is being done to help the bird regain ground. Creating deep wild flower field verges and the careful use of herbicides will provide more material for the partridge to forage and create nesting sites. Still this beautiful bird faces many obstacles in the future.
As the Autumn gives way to Winter it seems there is a partridge at every turn however many of the partridge we see are the Red Legged Partridge. This bird was introduced several hundred years ago as a game bird reared for the shooting season. There are estate shoots who pride themselves on raising the native Grey Partridge. They have worked very hard on conservation to halt the decline and we value this positive approach to countryside conservation. It builds it’s nests in a grass lined scrape on scrubland and grasslands on the margins and feeds on seeds, small leaves and insects. It is found along field and woodland margins and groups of them can be seen darting skittishly along the hedgerows and across the fields in Winter. So not quite a partridge in a pear tree.
So why is there a Partridge in a Pear Tree in the song?
The lyrics to the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas were first published in 1780. They were written in a children’s book called ‘ Mirth without Mischief ‘as a Twelfth Night memories and forfeits game. It has been altered along the way and evolved from game into song. Moreover the tune was not added until 1909 and was written by an English composer named Frederic Austin. Austin set the melody and lyrics changing the words somewhat, “colly” to “calling” birds. He also added the cadence of “five go-old rings.” It has been suggested that the lyrics have a Gaelic origin and are made up of a mixture of English and French words. So the pear tree could simply be a corruption of ‘une perdrix’ the French for partridge. It is quite possible that the English corrupted the words to pear tree. Well it seems as plausible an explanation as any!