And a Partridge in a Pear Tree
Updated: Jan 27
Everyone's heard the Twelve Days of Christmas song. And most people probably know the words off by heart. Birds feature prominently in the lyrics – a partridge in a pear tree; two Turtle Doves; three French hens; four calling birds; six geese a-laying; and seven swans a-swimming. And it may come as a surprise that some of them can be found around Gate Street during the festive period …
Starting at the top, a partridge in a pear tree is unlikely to be spotted, but a partridge scuttling across a field or taking off from the bottom of a hedgerow is rather a common sight around Gate Street. Two species occur in Britain: the native Grey Partridge and the introduced Red-legged. The latter is seen often and, in the winter, can form groups – known as coveys – up to 30-strong. Sadly, Grey is far rarer these days, but the land around Gate Street is one of the few remaining places they remain in Surrey, though they are hard to see.
Even one Turtle Dove would be quite a surprise if it was seen in the summer, when this migratory species visits Britain to breed – they have undergone a shocking decline and are now highly localised. But for one to be present in the winter is nearly impossible … Collared Doves are more likely to be seen around Gatestreet, as well as the white Feral Rock Doves that live here.
Calling birds is quite a broad term and refers to songbirds, otherwise known as passerines. In December, few species will sing, but on a mild day at this time of year the first enthusiastic Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Wrens may pipe up, reminding us that warmer, longer days are coming. When it comes to geese, Canada and Greylag are the most likely to be seen around Gate Street. Both of these noisy species breed nearby and in winter can form flocks of up to 80 on the fields in the area. A more recent colonist is the Egyptian Goose, a rather curious looking bird with a loud and obtrusive call. These were introduced to Britain half a century ago and have spread widely. While not as common as the aforementioned species, they now breed around Gate Street and, somewhat bizarrely for a goose, can be seen perched high up in trees as they look for suitable nest holes. So, all three of these species are a-laying at Gate Street these days.
Finally, swans. The only resident swan species in England is Mute Swan, the type most people are familiar with. They are not quite fully mute, but don’t vocalise much and, when they do, it’s normally a mixture of grunts and whistles. Mute Swans aren’t so common around Gate Street, though every now and again one will pitch up on a pond for a few days.