Dear Readers, you might have thought that once we got to the fifth day of Christmas we have a (brief) break from all those birds that have been given as presents previously. After all, a gold ring never goes amiss, and five would be plenty to adorn at least 25% of one’s available digits. Alas, things are never so clear cut in the world of folksongs, and several commentators think that the fifth day also refers to yet more birds. Where would one find the room for all these critters? And we haven’t even got on to the swans and the geese yet.
William Baring-Gould was by trade a Sherlock Holmes expert, but he turned his forensic eye on the Twelve Days of Christmas and announced that the ‘five gold rings’ actually referred to the five golden rings of the ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). But what are these ‘five gold rings’ of which Baring-Gould speaks? The ring around the neck of the bird is white, and as far as I know there is no golden variety of this actual species. Maybe he is just referring to five pheasants, which would indeed carry on the theme of creatures that flap and peck very nicely.
Another theory is that it isn’t ‘five gold rings’, but ‘five goldspinks’. A goldspink is the old name for a goldfinch, and these have been very popular cage birds for centuries (until taking them from the wild was banned in the UK and the European Union in 1979. Previous to this, finches of several kinds were crossbred with canaries, to produce ‘mules’, birds with attractive colouration and pretty singing voices. This is now only legal if both parent birds were bred in captivity, and any offspring have to be ringed at 5-6 days old. Taking birds from the wild is illegal.
However, both of these theories are somewhat knocked out of the park by the illustration in the 1780 edition of the words of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, which shows this:
That looks awfully like jewellery to me….
And here is a very appropriate song to celebrate the day – give a big hand to Freda Payne and ‘Band of Gold’….
Can you name these five ‘golden’ UK birds?
Photo One By © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31627034
Photo Two by By Charles J. Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography.co.uk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=104326584
Photo Three By Sergi tgn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8045623
Photo Four by gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Five by Jarkko Järvinen, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Six by By Michel Idre from Plaisance du Touch, France – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35155459
Photo Eight by By Andrej Chudý from Slovakia – CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39987810