Birds of Christmas: The Carols

2006 December 25
by David J. Ringer

GREENE CO., MO — Part five of a series in which I set out explore some of the ways that birds help us celebrate Christmas.

Can you name five Christmas carols that mention birds? The first one that sprang to my mind was “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” in which birds are given as several of the gifts. Mike has done such a thorough job with this song over at 10,000 Birds that I’ll just point you to his post rather than say more myself: Birds Of The Twelve Days Of Christmas.

Several other carols feature birds, but unfortunately, they are rather obscure. One of these is “Whence Comes This Rush of Wings?” (or “Carol of the Birds”), which originated in the Bas-Quercy region of France. I’ve adapted the score for three men’s voices and sung it, presenting the recording here as my Christmas gift to you: carolofthebirds.mp3 (1.24 MB, 1:21 duration).

The lyrics and score are available on a scan from Whence Comes This Rush of Wings? French lyrics (with a literal English translation) are available here. Evidently the third verse, which mentions the greenfinch and philomel (nightingale), was not part of the original French carol.

Another carol in which birds come to sing for the Baby Jesus is “The Friendly Beasts” (or “(The) Gifts They Gave”):

“I,” said the dove from the rafters high,
“Cooed Him to sleep that He should not cry;
We cooed Him to sleep, my mate and I.”
“I,” said the dove from the rafters high.


Several different songs are known in English as “Carol of the Birds.” One, as mentioned above, originated in France. Another “Carol of the Birds” was sung first in Catalan, a Romance language spoken mainly in Spain and Andorra:

Upon this holy night,
When God’s great star appears,
And floods the earth with brightness
Birds’ voices rise in song
And warbling all night long
Express their glad hearts’ lightness
Birds’ voices rise in song
And warbling all night long
Express their glad hearts’ lightness

The Nightingale is first
To bring his song of cheer,
And tell us of His gladness:
“Jesus, our Lord, is born
To free us from all sin
And banish ev’ry sadness!
Jesus, our Lord is born
To free us from all sin
And banish ev’ry sadness!”

Full Catalan and English lyrics. (Warning: This page will make you squint.)
Alternate English lyrics.

Yet another “Carol of the Birds” features owls, cuckoos, pigeons, and onomatopoeia, and it comes in English and Irish flavors. (You’ll have to scroll down a bit after following each link.)

Not to be outdone, the Australians have produced their own “Carol of the Birds,” and I really like it:

Out on the plains the brolgas are dancing
Lifting their feet like warhorses prancing
Up to the sun the woodlarks go winging
Faint in the dawn light echoes their singing
Orana! Orana! Orana to Christmas Day.

More (including midis)…
About the song.

And with that, we conclude our “Birds of Christmas” series this year. You can access the other posts under “related posts” below. Maybe we’ll continue the series next year (send in your ideas!), but until then…

Merry Christmas!

Related posts:

  1. Birds of Christmas: The Tree
  2. Birds of Christmas: The Cards
  3. Birds of Christmas: The Crèche
  4. Birds of Christmas: The Stamps
  5. Merry Christmas!
2 Responses
  1. Lynn permalink
    January 1, 2007

    Finally sat down and read this series–and enjoyed it very much. Good job.

    I see that you’re keeping LOL links on your page in faith. That is admirable. I hope your faith becomes sight. Oh wait, sometimes hope isn’t enough.


  2. Anonymous permalink
    January 5, 2007

    pretty…glad i got a sneak preview of the carol of the birds and of your pictures…quite special i felt.

    don’t pretend you don’t know!

Comments are closed.