MOST people are familiar with the old Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, which is said to have its roots in the 1700s. The first stanza is:

On the first day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me,
A partridge in pear tree.

The trouble is, grey partridge (English partridge), which was widespread and common in the 18th century, is now rare, has a UK Conservation Status of ‘RED’ and is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. And you are just as unlikely to see a wild pear tree. Wild pear trees once adorned the hedgerows of England, but are now scarce.

What was the best remaining example in the country (the Cubbington Pear in Warwickshire) was recently cut down to make way for HS2. However, Christmas revellers both here and overseas may find other equally interesting animals and birds in their Christmas trees. 

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Last year, police were called out to deal with an unusual festive intruder – a sparrowhawk, which flew through an open door and into a house at Ellon in Aberdeenshire and settled down on top of the family Christmas tree. Officers called for backup from the local North East Wildlife and Animal Rescue (New Arc). 

Forestry Journal: A grey partridge A grey partridge

Keith Marley, of New Arc, told the press how it was an unusual animal rescue: “When we got there, the sparrowhawk was quite happily perched on the top of the Christmas tree. 

“It was pitch black outside, so it had no intention of leaving a nicely lit room to fly off into the darkness. We came with the ambulance, which is equipped with nets and all the equipment we needed and within a minute or two we’d managed to catch the sparrowhawk and escort it out of the premises without anybody being hurt.” 

Curious to know what the sparrowhawk’s preference is for Christmas trees, I looked at some pictures taken at the time, which suggested a Norway spruce. And you will never guess what Keith Marley’s parting comment was: “It makes a change from a partridge in a pear tree”.

An owl which clearly wanted a piece of the Christmas action didn’t pick any old Christmas tree, but the one destined for New York City’s Rockerfeller Center, no less. The tiny owl was found by workers on unwrapping the tall Norway spruce. Apparently, the owl had been wrapped inside the tree in Oneota, New York State, as the tree was being prepared for transport to Manhattan. The owl, a northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus), was named ‘Rockerfeller’ and transferred to a wildlife sanctuary in Saugerties, New York State, before being released into the wild.

Forestry Journal:

Even more intriguing was an incident in Adelaide, South Australia, where a family returned home to find a koala bear perched on the Christmas tree in their lounge room.

The householder called in wildlife rescuers to assist in removing the female koala from the tree, though at first they thought it was a hoax call. The koala didn’t want to leave and rescuers had a fight on their hands to get her off. “I think she was quite comfortable,” said the householder.

Adelaide is a city I know well and where the most popular conifer used as a commercial Christmas tree is the Monterey or radiata pine (Pinus radiata). However, further investigation was a bit of a disappointment, because the koala had taken up residence in an artificial Christmas tree. Either way, it is a major departure for the koala bear which is invariably seen perched on the branches of eucalyptus trees.