By Stephen Moss


Have you ever thought about the birds in The 12 Days of Christmas? A partridge in a pear tree, turtle doves, French hens, colly birds, geese a-laying, swans a-swimming – the rhyme is pretty bird-heavy!

Moss builds on the theme and adds avian interpretations of the other lines of the popular Christmas rhyme to give us chapters on grey partridges (a partridge in a pear tree); turtle doves, of course (two turtle doves); domestic chickens (three French hens); blackbirds (four colly birds); yellowhammers (five gold rings); geese (six geese a-laying); mute swans (seven swans a-swimming); nightjars (eight maids a-milking); cranes (nine ladies dancing); black grouse (ten lords a-leaping); sandpipers (eleven pipers piping); and woodpeckers (twelve drummers drumming).

The chapters on each bird are like shorter versions of his bird biographies: a mix of nature writing, natural history, scientific research, literature, and culture. For very advanced birders the content may be too brief, but the book certainly goes beyond introducing the birds. Despite fitting twelve chapters into a book of only 200 pages, and covering birds I’m familiar with, Moss still taught me many new things in this delightfully festive book.

The short chapters make the book engaging and it’s easy to fly through it on a cold winter evening, but the ribbon bookmark makes it easy to come back to – even a year later.

My only gripe with The Twelve Birds of Christmas is that I’d like to keep it forever, but the copy I have isn’t built to last. After light use the front cover has ripped away from the spine. Hopefully my copy was a dud (for info, mine was printed and bound by Clays Ltd).

This is a fantastic book to dip into over the festive period – keep it close by as you wait for guests, wrap presents, and wait impatiently for the roast to cook.

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