In terms of connecting The 12 Days of Christmas to birds, the first four days – a partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves, three French hens, four calling birds – are rather obvious and easy. But Be Your Own Birder is all about doing things in your own birdy way, and all 12 days can have interesting bird associations, including…
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…Five golden rings.
All Types of Rings – for Birds
At first, you might question birds wearing jewelry and thus being connected to this carol, but in fact naturalists, ornithologists, wildlife resource officers, bird rehabilitators, and many others give thousands of birds rings every year through their bird banding efforts.
Bird rings – or bands – are identification markers put around a bird’s legs or ankles. The bands are printed or engraved with individual identification codes, and when birds are banded, that code becomes associated with all the information a bander might collect, including the bird’s age, gender, measurements, weight, and body condition. This data is then correlated with thousands of other banded birds to determine bird population numbers, migration patterns, range changes, longevity, breeding success, and more.
Depending on the species, there are several types of bands that might be used for birds. Some bands are simply squeezed or clamped together and are sturdy enough to stay securely on a small bird’s leg, such as hummingbirds, songbirds, and ducks. Slightly larger bands – meant for slightly larger birds such as kestrels or hawks – often have flanges that slip together so the band cannot be pried apart by a powerful bill. The largest bands have rivets to keep them together and are used for the strongest raptors, including eagles, when such powerful bills could easily mangle a smaller or less secure band.
Of course, the song calls for golden (or gold, depending on the way it is written or sung) rings, but no bird bands are ever made of gold. As a softer metal, gold would not be sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of a bird’s daily activities – flying, preening, perching, foraging, etc. – without scratching or warping. Even a little damage might erode the identification markers on a gold band, making it useless if the bird is found again in the future. Instead, bird bands are typically constructed of stronger, non-toxic alloys that are still lightweight and won’t harm or impede the birds. Some bands are also plastic, which can be brightly colored and easy to read from a distance so the bird does not need to be captured or unnecessarily stressed for more data on its location and condition to be collected through passive observation.
Some Birds Are Naturally Golden
Of course, some birds are so naturally golden that they don’t need fancy jewelry embellishments even for the most festive holiday. There are more than 115 bird species so beautifully golden that their names include that lustrous description, including the golden dove, golden eagle, golden-bellied tanager, golden-crowned kinglet, golden-naped weaver, and the Indian golden oriole.
Considering the song lyrics can be either “golden” or “gold” however, it is also important to include another 20 or more bird species that are simply gold, such as the gold-whiskered barbet, black-and-gold cotinga, gold-naped finch, and the goldcrest. This gives us plenty of birds that would certainly fit in with the decorative aspect of the fourth day of Christmas!
Some Birds are Naturally Banded
While some birds are naturally golden, others are naturally banded and thus wear their own rings year-round, not just at holidays and not just if someone offers jewelry as a gift. More than 75 bird species include the word “banded” in their name, such as the banded prinia, banded martin, banded wren, red-banded flowerpecker, and the black-banded crake. And of course we can’t forget birds that are naturally ringed, such as the ringed teal, ringed kingfisher, and white-ringed flycatcher. Of course, the gold-ringed tanager may be the best connection to these lyrics of all – both gold and ringed at once!