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The Twelve Tweets of Christmas

Red-legged Partridge: Tx: 02/Oct/2013, BBC Radio 4

Wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson presents the red-legged partridge.

The origins of the carol are lost in time, but may have come from France. There is therefore some discussion amongst ornithologists as to whether a true love’s partridge was the grey partridge (Perdix perdix) or the French or red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa).

First broadcast in October 2013 – Red Legged Partridge

Image courtesy of RSPB

Turtle Dove: Tx: 03/July/2013, BBC Radio 4

Steve Backshall presents the story and sound of the turtle dove.

At the time of the carol’s creation, the soft purring of turtle doves would have been a familiar sound across the British Isles and indeed the bird was mentioned in the Old Testament. Receiving two doves has long been a symbol of love and would have cemented the amour of this now rapidly declining species.

First broadcast in July 2013 - Turtle Dove

Image courtesy of RSPB

Moorhen: Tx: 23/Jan/2014, BBC Radio 4

Chris Packham presents the moorhen.

The original species mentioned in the carol, French hens, are really chickens. Sadly, being domestic fowl, they would have no place in a Tweet of the Day schedule. But with a delve into the archives the inconspicuous moorhen could be an able substitute. Its plumage is remarkable with a red patch on their legs like a garter.

First Broadcast in January 2014 - Moorhen

Image courtesy of RSPB

New Zealand Robin: Tx: 22/Dec/2014, BBC Radio 4

Sir David Attenborough begins Christmas week with the New Zealand robin.

The species of the calling bird mentioned in the carol remains elusive. But in true Tweet of the Day style, we have devoted the series to many a songbird. In the deep midwinter days, nothing lifts the heart more than a robin calling from within a garden perch. On the other side of the World the New Zealand Robin, while not closely related to the British robin, is an accomplished singer in its own right.

First Broadcasts December 22nd 2014 – New Zealand Robin

Image courtesy of Brent Stephenson /

Goldfinch: Tx: 07/June/2013, BBC Radio 4

Miranda Krestovnikoff presents the story and sound of the goldfinch.

A true songster the goldfinch, it can effortlessly replace the glitz of gold rings in the carol as it sings its proclamation from on high.

A much favoured species for the Victorian Parlour, goldfinches have brought joy to humans for many years with their tinkling musical song. No wonder their collective name is a ‘charm’ of goldfinches, charming gold indeed.

First Broadcast June 2013 – Goldfinch

Image courtesy of RSPB

White Fronted Goose: Tx: 26/Feb/2014, BBC Radio 4

John Aitchison presents the white-fronted goose.

At this time of the year the charismatic white fronted goose is not a-laying but, as John Aitcheson mentioned back in February 2014, it provides the evocative sound of winter along British coasts.

First Broadcast in February 2014 - White fronted goose

Image courtesy of RSPB

Mute Swan: Tx: 12/Dec/2013, BBC Radio 4

Chris Packham presents the mute swan.

Deeply embedded in the British culture, the mute swan is unique because the Crown still retains the rights to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water. It is only to hope that at the time of the well-known carol sending swans to my true love didn’t result instead in His Majesty’s displeasure.

First Broadcast December 2013 – Mute Swan

Image courtesy of RSPB

Nightjar: Tx: 03/June/2013, BBC Radio 4

Miranda Krestovnikoff presents the story and sound of the nightjar.

Singing the carol in midwinter the nightjar would be long gone to its wintering home in Africa. Yet in olden days, the nightjar was seen as a deeply mysterious bird that maids a milking may have come across in the heaths and plantations of the British Isles each summer. Their colloquial name of 'goatsucker' came about because of their almost supernatural reputation with silent flight and supposedly a mythical ability to steal milk from goats.

First Broadcast June 2013 - Eurasian nightjar

Image courtesy of RSPB

Andean Cock-of-the-rock: Tx: 07/Oct/2014, BBC Radio 4

Miranda Krestovnikoff presents the Andean cock-of-the-rock from Peru.

We're sure the dancing ladies of the carol would relish a chance to relax and watch the dancing display of the Andean Cock of the Rock.

Eager to catch the female’s attention, these males prance and posture infront of the observant females. Yet it is the female who is in control, aware that the most dominant males will be near the centre of the area, it is to here that she focusses her attention.

First broadcast October 2014 - Andean Cock of the Rock

Image courtesy of Ben Lascelles /

White-bearded Manakin: Tx: 12/Sept/2014, BBC Radio 4

Sir David Attenborough presents the white-bearded manakin of tropical South America.

Sounding like a fusillade of firecrackers resounding across the forest, these lively lords a leaping are actually White Bearded Manakins famous for their courtship displays. Selecting a suitable place, they perform a ‘snap-jump’ followed by a loud ‘pee-you.’ Other displays include the ‘grunt jump’ and a Lordly but not leaping manoeuvre known as ‘slide-down-the-pole.’

First Broadcast September 2014 - White Bearded Manakin

Image courtesy of Nigel Bean /

Sandpiper: Tx: 25/June/2013, BBC Radio 4

Miranda Krestovnikoff presents the story and sound of the common sandpiper.

As the carol hints, no festive party would be complete without massed pipers piping and the common sandpiper’s high frequency call, piping above the noise of a Scottish river.

First broadcast June 2013 – Common Sandpiper

Image courtesy of Steve Austin (RSPB images)

Snipe: Tx: 04/April/2014, BBC Radio 4

Kate Humble presents the snipe.

The sound of the drum ends the carol accumulation run and the evocative drumming of the male common snipe is a magical sound on a spring day. In the breeding season males fly high above the landscape performing a dashing earthwards flight before sweeping up again.

Throughout this display a weakened hinge on one of its tail feathers produces the drumming sound, bringing to an aerial end The 12 Birds of Christmas, Tweet of the Day.

First broadcast 4th April 2014 – Common Snipe

Image courtesy of RSPB