Which Birds in the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' are Buckeyes?
Story by Kurt Knebusch | Photos from Getty Images
Originally published on the website of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences
In the holiday song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” someone’s true love gives them ... quite a few birds.
Given that the song has European roots — it came from France, apparently, and was published first in England — does it hold up ornithologically in Ohio?
Do the birds in the song live in the Buckeye State?
Here are answers from experts in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University; and from sources including The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Ohio (2016), which has ties to CFAES too.
1ST DAY: PARTRIDGE (WITH OR WITHOUT PEAR TREE)
ANSWER: Technically, no. But also, not any more.
The ruffed grouse (pictured at the right and at the top of the story) does indeed live in Ohio. And people sometimes call it a “partridge.” But the name, scientists say, is inaccurate.
While both grouse and partridges belong to the Phasianidae family — which includes pheasants, chickens and others — they’re actually members of two different subfamilies: Grouse are in Tetraoninae; partridges, in Perdicinae.
Members of the Partridge Family, meanwhile, included Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce and the late David Cassidy.
Ohio, in fact, had partridges once. In the 1900s, game officials started releasing non-native gray, or Hungarian, partridges in the state, hoping they’d survive, settle down and raise families.
It worked. Ohio’s gray partridge numbers grew. But then starting in the 1940s, the birds’ numbers crashed, apparently due mostly to changing farm practices. Today, scientists consider gray partridges extirpated, completely gone, within Ohio.
Stray gray partridges — plus another non-native partridge, the chukar — still are seen sometimes. But they’re usually escapees. They’re from game farms, say, or from a landowner stocking them for hunting.
Pear production in the Midwest, including Ohio, is “greatly limited by fire blight, a bacterial disease, and occasional spring frosts,” says the college’s Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide.
2ND DAY: TURTLE-DOVES
ANSWER: Not exactly. But a kissing cousin is moving in.
The non-native, adaptable Eurasian collared-dove, Streptopelia decaocto (pictured), arrived in Ohio about 10 years ago, is breeding and spreading — it’s been reported nesting in Holmes, Mercer, Logan and Fulton counties, among others — and is a near dead-ringer for the closely related ringed turtle-dove.
The ringed turtle-dove is a domesticated — pet or cage bird — form of the wild African collared-dove, Streptopelia roseogrisea.
The Eurasian collared-dove is native to parts of Asia and Europe but has colonized places like Egypt, North Africa, the Bahamas and even the Arctic Circle, and also many U.S. states.
According to The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Ohio, the Eurasian collared-dove “seems likely to become a permanent member of the North American avifauna.”
3RD DAY: FRENCH HENS
ANSWER: Yes. But in coops and runs, not the wild.
The Meyer Hatchery in Polk, Ohio, sells, among others, baby chickens of two French breeds, Marans and Faverolles (pictured). Specifically, it offers White Marans, Blue Splash Marans, Blue Copper Marans, Black Copper Marans, Cuckoo Marans, Blue Cuckoo Marans, Golden Cuckoo Marans and Salmon Faverolles.
Mt. Healthy Hatcheries in Cincinnati, Ohio, also sells Cuckoo Marans chicks.
Chicken people consider Marans and Faverolles good dual-purpose breeds, suited to producing both meat and eggs. Marans hens are noted for their chocolate-colored eggs.
Both breeds were named for the French towns from which they originated. And both breeds can make it as Buckeyes.
“Given the proper care — diet and environment — it’s possible to raise any chicken in Ohio,” said Mike Lilburn, poultry science professor in the college’s Department of Animal Sciences.
4TH DAY: CALLING BIRDS
ANSWER: In one way, no. In other ways, kinda sorta.
Early versions of the lyrics used the term “colly birds,” not “calling birds,” according to the song’s Wikipedia entry. “Colly” means sooty or black. It’s thought that the reference is to the common, or Eurasian, blackbird.
Ironically, the common blackbird isn’t a blackbird at all but a thrush. It’s a close relative of the American robin (pictured), which lives in Ohio and throughout North America. Except for their colors — black vs. gray with the famous red breast — the two are a lot alike.
While common blackbirds sometimes, rarely, wander westward over the Atlantic, they’ve never quite made it to Ohio. The closest is parts of Canada.
Ohio’s true “colly birds” include the abundant and widespread red-winged blackbird and the rare and limited — at least in the Buckeye State — yellow-headed blackbird.
6TH DAY: GEESE
ANSWER: Yes. In a big honking way.
The Canada goose (pictured), and specifically the subspecies called the giant Canada goose, nests in every county in Ohio. Its numbers are booming thanks to more and more goose-friendly, people-created habitat — specifically, ponds surrounded by lawns on golf courses, in office parks, in condo complexes and so on.
“It’s one of the species I get a lot of questions about,” said Marne Titchenell, a wildlife program specialist with CFAES. “They’re right up there with deer and coyotes on the list of species that frequently become a nuisance.”
Problems include Canada geese eating and damaging lawns, hissing at and charging people during the spring nesting season, and delivering lots of “presents,” and not just on Christmas Eve.
There’s even a fact sheet about the matter. CFAES’s “Coping with Canada Geese: Conflict Management and Damage Prevention Strategies” is free at ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/W-3.
“They’re a constant reminder we’re capable of helping a species in serious decline recover.” MARNE TITCHENELL
But it’s a success story in wildlife management, too, Titchenell said.
“There was a time when a honking V of geese flying overhead stopped people in their tracks. It was a rare sight, and nesting geese within the state were virtually nonexistent,” she said.
Then in the 1950s, wildlife managers reintroduced Canada geese to some of Ohio’s wetlands. Coupled with state and federal protections, increases in habitat, and the birds’ adaptive nature, the “geese rebounded very quickly,” Titchenell said.
“They can sometimes become a problem,” she said. “But they’re a constant reminder that we’re capable of helping a species in serious decline recover — and recover well.”
7TH DAY: SWANS
ANSWER: Yes. And rather swimmingly.
Twenty years ago, wildlife managers began efforts to restore trumpeter swans (pictured) to Ohio. Today, though officially listed as “Threatened,” the large, tooting waterbirds are breeding successfully and “advancing toward a sustainable population,” according to The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Ohio.
Mute swans aren’t native to Ohio; they’re from Europe. They’re sometimes kept in zoos and on farms. And sometimes they escape. “Naturalized populations are increasing and are now an ecological concern around the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic states,” the atlas says.
Mute swan issues include overgrazing wetland plants, badgering other waterbirds — including trumpeter swans, for instance — and even attacking people.
Another swan, the tundra swan, migrates through Ohio, especially the northeastern part, during its spring and fall migrations, including in early December.
ALL THE BIRDS BREEDING
The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Ohio (600 pp., $64.95) is available from Penn State University Press at go.osu.edu/BreedingBirdAtlas. Preparing the book involved, among others, about 1,000 birdwatching volunteers and a number of faculty, staff and students from CFAES’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, including four of the book’s editors.
A caveat: The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects many wild birds from, among other things, being proffered by the lovestruck at Yuletide.