Updated: Oct 30
Birds are often used in decorations, cards, and in other symbolic ways around the Christmas season. Many are used somewhat incorrectly, and others are missing from the Christmas lineup. I am here to flock Christmas up and get some proper bird representation.
Please note I am not excluding other holidays for any malicious reasons. If you know of birds that represent a December holiday that you celebrate, please share them in the comments, or reach out to Zach to write your own top five list! This article is meant to be silly and make you chuckle while teaching you a new fact or two. Do not take it too seriously, or you are likely to injure your happiness bone.
What is the most iconic present of all? Joining the flock! Okay, okay, it might not be the most iconic present, but it is a gift that I will truly appreciate. And it's FREE!
The cardinal should not don the cover of so many Christmas and holiday cards, and yet, I cannot go a single holiday season without seeing them. There are several other examples of birds that I will question their connection with this holiday, and after blaspheming against their Christmas use, I will offer a Top 5 Birds Names that Represent Christmas. Laugh, get your nog on, and be merry. Most importantly, do not take any of this seriously.
Top 5 Birds that are Symbolic of Christmas
Many of the following birds fill the avian roles of wildlife mascots on various holly-jolly paraphernalia. However, the overuse, lack of connection, and general lack of imaginative nomination for these species have forced my hand(s). It's time for change.
1. Northern Cardinal
The Northern Cardinal has saturated the greeting card market. Its use alone makes me wonder how we do not have a global shortage of red ink. And while I love the Northern Cardinal and do also enjoy receiving a Christmas card as bright as Kris Kringle's knickers (thanks for the card, Mom), the reason behind the choice leaves me wanting. In some historical and cultural realms, the cardinal represents lost loved ones or even angels. This may have led to the use of the Northern Cardinal as a symbol of Christmas. However, for those of us in western North America, we would be hard-pressed to consider the cardinal a sign. Why? We do not have Northern Cardinals west of the Great Plains. The cardinal holds much less sway on a large part of the North American landscape that never partakes in their popping plumage. Would I keep the cardinal in this top spot? Not a chance. Bring me something new. Something like a chickadee that can be found across the continent.
New Flocking Christmas Bird: Any chickadee. All chickadees.
It is in a pear tree. And yet, there is not a single pear tree near me. I do not care how many times it was given to me by my true love. Partridges and pear trees do not give me warm, sugary feels inside. Now, a Purple Finch in a pecan tree? Yes. Those pecans will eventually become a pecan pie, and that is something sugary that I can get on board with. Who eats pears in a pie? Maybe a pear crumble. MMM. If anyone wants me to try a pear pie, feel free to ship on out west. Oh yeah, how about a finch instead of a partridge?
New Flocking Christmas Bird: Finches are found across the continent. They are colorful and common. Let's do that.
3. Turtle Dove
We do not have "turtle doves" in North America. No, the Eurasian Collared-Dove and Mourning Dove are not turtle doves. Though what has been colloquially known as the turtle dove looks quite similar to the Eurasian Collared-Dove, the true turtle doves are not found on this continent (outside of a pet shop that I likely would offer angst for.) While doves do often represent peace, Eurasian Collared-Doves are not known for their peaceful nature or soothing sounds. This is just a silly choice, and I would rather a turtle than a turtle dove.
New Flocking Christmas Bird: Okay, a turtle may not be the best answer. I choose a Red-breasted Nuthatch instead. They are common, adorable, and a better symbol of peace.
4. Goose and Swan
I would not argue against a swan. Any swan. Swans are majestic, soothing, and terrifying. For this reason alone, I would not cross a swan. A goose, though? I will take every chance I can to denigrate a goose. In fact, I would advocate for fewer Christmas hams to be consumed and more gooses to end up as the Yule entree. Geese are noisy, poopy, are bullies, and in many locales, they are pretty overpopulated. The same cannot be said for our native swans. Down with the goose. (But not you, swans, you all are fantastic. 👀)
New Flocking Christmas Bird: I chose the swan. Yes, out of fear, but still. Swans are great. So great. So, so, so great.
I have a vendetta against turkeys. I am being honest regarding this bias upfront. It should make no difference, as the turkey does nothing to represent Christmas other than smell good when coming out of an oven. There is nothing majestic or serene about this naked-headed bird. In fact, I would say the Turkey Vulture is a better symbol of Christmas than the Wild Turkey. Why? Just look at the vultures doing their best to clean up the carcasses of our bank accounts! Christmas marketing is conducted in an attempt to clean up the dying remains of our wallets, so yes, the Turkey Vulture might be a better mascot to represent what this time of year has become for so many.
New Flocking Christmas Bird: The Turkey Vulture comment was a bit dark. I choose the American Robin instead. Everyone loves the American Robin.
Top 5 Bird Names that Represent Christmas
The first five names are birds found in North America. The next five bird names are birds that are from the rest of the world. If we wanted to pick proper Christmas Bird Mascots, we might lean more into the names of the birds than just their appearance or cultural significance. This list makes an honest attempt at that. (Honestly, ridiculous.)
1. Clark's Nutcracker
Those cute and sometimes scary figurines used to crack nuts are always on display during the holiday season. Well, there is a bird named a nutcracker that cracks open pine cones and nutshells. And guess what? It is a lot less flocking creepy than the figurine.
2. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Do not roast these birds above an open fire. That would be illegal. However, normal chestnuts roasting over an open fire are acceptable, especially during the open-fire season (you know, when it's cold).
See Zach's idea and gift list for beginner birding gear!
3. Cinnamon Teal
Hopefully, you sprinkle cinnamon into your sweet treats for friends and family! Of course, in your eggnog, you likely use nutmeg. That bird will be used in the next list. So, for now, sprinkle some cinnamon in your cider and be happy. And enjoy looking at this handsome fowl.
4. Pine Grosbeak
If you put up a Christmas tree, it is likely a pine of some kind. Or maybe a fir. Or a spruce. If you use a spruce, then give this place to the Spruce Grouse. For the rest of us pine users, the Pine Grosbeak can act as a mascot. It's a stunning red finch that is striking against a snowy background. Speaking of snowy...
5. Snowy Egret
I could have gone Snowy Owl here, but that seems too cliche. I chose the Snowy Egret instead! I have two reasons for this selection. The first is obvious. It has snowy in its name. The second is where this bird will likely be found this time of year. On or near a beach. Where I would like to be as well.
Honorable Mention: Pied-bill Grebe (who doesn't love pie?)
The previous five birds are species most of you amazing flockers would likely experience at some point. Now, here are some birds that you might never see, but their names are too perfect to pass up!
1. Christmas Shearwater
There are many species of birds unique to Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean: Christmas Island Imperial-Pigeon, Christmas Island Swiftlet, Christmas Island Boobook, Christmas Island White-eye, and Christmas Island Frigatebird. The Christmas Shearwater is not as exclusive to Christmas Island, but the earliest known specimen, known as the type specimen, is from Christmas Island. Thus, it was named the Christmas Shearwater. What better bird to be my number one Christmas bird!?
I do not think you have to kiss under this bird. But if you do, make sure of two things. You have consent to put those soda suckers on whoever you're about to plant one on, and this bird is not about to drop anything from its perch. As in poop. Don't get poop on your lips. Nobody will kiss you then. Not even under a Mistletoebird.
3. Wreathed Hornbill
I have never placed a wreath on my home, but maybe it is something you do? I hear it is a Christmas tradition in some places. Shrug. I would definitely put this wreath on display! The Wreathed Hornbill is named for the wreathed casque that sits on top of its bill. The casque is the horn part of its namesake, the hornbill. But imagine it's a cask of eggnog instead. Eggnog. Mmmm. Speaking of nogging it...
4. Nutmeg Mannikin
What better to use with your cask of eggnog than a whole mannikin of nutmeg!? I should make one clarification about the name of the Nutmeg Mannikin. This is a colloquial name, though it is used somewhat frequently still. The current "accepted" name of this bird is the Scaly-breasted Munia. But that is not very Christmasy. Also, if you do not nutmeg your nog, then you are not welcome to nog in my node. Nutmeg your nog, or I'll nod off.
5. Joyful Greenbul
It is supposed to be a joyful time of year. What better bird to help remind us all to be joyful than the Joyful Greenbul? That's all I have. Joke over. Bye.
Whether you celebrate or not, hopefully, this ridiculous combination of words convinced you to crack a smile. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and I wish a joyous December to those who do not.
Read our holiday gift guide for bird nerds!
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