I have no idea what a calling bird might be; I don't think it's referring to those girls in call centres who try to sell you on their latest cellular phone plan. (Pardon me, I have call centres on my mind. I just watched my Christmas DVD, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", which prominently features a call centre in its plot line. Love that movie - a whole flock of über-talented veteran British actors strutting their stuff, being funny and poignant and romantic and oh-so-very English, in India, no less - what's not to like?).
Okay, calling birds. I just googled it, and found out that in the song, "calling bird" is a corruption of the English "colly bird", which comes from "coaly bird", i.e. a plain old blackbird. Now, European blackbirds are songbirds - so, in a sense, they are "calling" birds.
|Photo credit: Malene Thyssen, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Malene|
It's one of the things I miss about Europe, the sound of birdsong. Here in Western Canada we have lots of noisy birds alright (don't get me started on the racket they make at 4:00 AM on a summer's morning when I'm trying to sleep!) but they don't sing. They chirp, and tweet (with their throats and beaks, not their smartphones), and cuckoo and caw and trill and make lots of other delightful birdy noises, but I have yet to hear the kind of tune that a blackbird will sing on a dusky summer's evening sitting in the tree outside your window. Blackbirds warble, in ever-varying tunes; they really sing.
So that's the kind of calling bird that one's true love is supposed to hand over, in multiples of four, every day from now until Twelfth Night, by which time one will have a full three dozen of the critters. Which, I suppose, will make the filling for one-and-a-half Sing-a-Song-of-Sixpence Pies, which are meant to contain four-and-twenty blackbirds each. And here's another mystery: if they were baked in the pie, how on earth are they still capable of singing once the pie is cut open?
Life, the Universe, and Calling Birds. Happy Fourth Day of Christmas!