Love Your Birds This Valentine's Day


Act 1

Early in the morning of 14th February, in the Year of Our Lord 1393 , a young maidservant, in the employment of an English squire, awakes from her night’s slumber, gets out of bed, and crosses the room to look out of her tiny attic window. Beyond the frosted panes, a little sparrow sits on a bough, chirping happily.

She frowns at the cheerful little bird, and a gasp of horror escapes her slightly parted lips, which soon shape themselves into the beginnings of a smile. Now, she knows, she will always remain poor, but will be eternally happy. “After all”. she thinks, “money can’t buy you love”, as she skips down the rickety stairs to see whether Thomas a Bucket, hogfeeder, and her secret “Beau”, has slid a single bloom under the kitchen door……….

Act 2

Meanwhile, in a lofty chateau, overlooking a peasant village, a young lady awakes from her pleasant slumber, throws open her French windows, and is greeted by the sight of several Goldfinches in a nearby tree. Smiling gaily (for she knows, now, that she will marry a rich man) she dons her best dress over the underclothes she has been wearing (and sleeping in all winter), and glides downstairs to greet the first of her many wealthy suitors, who are bearing love letters and poems. “Charmed to meet you”, she greets each with (is this, I wonder, the origin of the collective noun for a group of these birds? Doubt it!).

Okay, I’d never make it as a writer for Mills & Boon, lol! I do, however, enjoy reading about superstitions, such as the two above.

Other bird superstitions related to St Valentine’s Day I recall are; if the first bird a girl sees on that day is a Robin, she will marry a sailor. If it is an Owl, she might never wed at all. Unlike the first two beliefs above, I cannot quite see anything “obvious” in these (unless, in the case of an Owl, the girl or guy “wises” up?) There are, of course, many superstitions regarding dreaming of different birds, and how each bird denotes the occupation of the man a girl will marry, but I just want to touch upon birds and St Valentine’s Day here.

So, back to top of blog, and continue………….

Once Upon a Time, Back in ye Middle Ages, there was a widespread belief, both in England and in France (or so I have read), that birds chose their mates and paired up in the middle of February, after the harshest of Winter had passed, and before the onset of the “busy” days of Spring. The 14th February had by then been decreed as St. Valentine’s day; several saints of this name have been identified, but a particular one is said to have presided over clandestine marriages, thus linking this day with love and romance

Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400), author of the “Canterbury Tales”, is widely credited with making the St Valentine’s Day ritual of sending cards, letters, poetry, etc. popular, due to his writing of “The Parlement of Fowles” (spelling varies) in 1382, in which he picked up on this belief.

The entire piece can be read at:-

but, in a nutshell, is about how, on Valentine’s Day, every bird of every kind assembles in a garden to choose a mate, presided over by “Mother Nature”.

“And there was not any bird that is created through procreation that was not ready in her presence to hear her and receive her judgment. For this was Saint Valentine’s day, when every bird of every kind that men can imagine comes to this place to choose his mate.”

At one time, in a few areas, 14th February was known as “The Birds’ Wedding Day”.

The Dove, among those birds which choose a mate for life, is still a very popular symbol of eternal love, and a favourite symbol for wedding cake decorations, favours, cards, etc., as well as gravestone ornamentation. Another superstitious belief was that if a girl saw a Dove on Valentine’s Day, she would marry a man with a kind heart. The phrase “lovey-dovey” seems to have originated in the early 19th Century.

John Donne (1572-1631), a poet among other things, carried on the tradition of St Valentine’s Day being the day when birds “wed”, in his epithalamion (a poem or ode to a bride and groom) written for the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of James VI and I, on Valentine’s Day, 1613:-

Hayle Bishop Valentine whose day this is
All the Ayre is thy Diocese
And all the chirping Queristers
And other birds ar thy parishioners
Thou marryest every yeare
The Lyrick Lark, and the graue whispering Doue,
The Sparrow that neglects his life for loue,
The houshold bird with the redd stomacher
Thou makst the Blackbird speede as soone,
As doth the Goldfinch, or the Halcyon
The Husband Cock lookes out and soone is spedd
And meets his wife, which brings her feather-bed.
This day more cheerfully than ever shine
This day which might inflame thy selfe old Valentine.

Mute Swans also tend to “marry” for life, and will sometimes display a seemingly affectionate heart-shaped moment.

Valentine’s Day still continues to be very closely linked with birds as, every year since 1997, the BTO (very cleverly) has chosen 14th February as the beginning of National Nest Box Week!

I’ll be putting up some new boxes in the garden of friends next week which will, hopefully, become home tweet home to some of our little feathered “lovebirds”. I think, also, that some special bird “wedding” cake is in order, with sunflower hearts being an essential ingredient.



10 Feb, 2012
muddywalters said:

Move over Rabbie . . make way for the Bard of Fife!
Nice job David.

10 Feb, 2012
aster said:

Oh great ! more cake lol :))
A wonderful blog David. I can't remember what bird I saw 37 years ago, must have been a swan :))

10 Feb, 2012
jane said:

Great blog David...and thank you for the reminder about National Nest Box Week...half term and a great chance to check them all out.Funnily enough a pair of bluetits were looking in a couple of days ago..a box that has been used every year ! Love the robin holding the rose....the dunnocks dont agree...ongoing battle here !
The swan photo is just beautifiul......:o))

10 Feb, 2012
david said:

Thank Ye kindly, Sir Muddy. "Bard o' Fife? Menothinkso! Although, I must confess, that ye afore-mentioned Lady Elizabeth was born a Fifer, lol! :-D)

(Cake) Crumbs, Aster - a Swan? Hope he has lived up to his "reputation", and has always been loyal, defensive, knowledgeable, proud, done his fair share of any childminding/raising (if applicable - do not reply), and that he turned out to be a real "prince". :-))

Jane, I usually wait until about now to check over any boxes I have put up, and to do some "spring cleaning", but those Tits get off to a very early start, don't they? In the last pic, above, that silhouette of the Coal Tit with some lichen in its beak was one I took 2 weeks ago in our local park.

The Dunnocks sound so very like some of the birds mentioned in the Chaucer work, above, lol!

Glad you liked the pics - I quite enjoyed using some older ones from my gallery, and "defacing" / "re-vamping" them for here. :-))

Don't forget, folks, to also hang out some pet, even human hair, too, as the birds will readily take it for nest material. This, together with cake, helps conserve and boost the energy they so quickly use up in their efforts to find a mate and make a home. :-)

11 Feb, 2012
blue bird said:

I think i must have seen a swan 49 yrs ago. lol

11 Feb, 2012
jane said:

Our cats are moulting collecting hair in readiness !! Storing in an empty mealworm tub....the things we

12 Feb, 2012
david said:

Another Swan!!! Thanks, blue bird, lol!

Aye, Jane, the things we do... like the re-use of those tubs, btw.

13 Feb, 2012
robashfield said:

As usual David a very interesting blog,with some fascinating "facts"
You never cease to amaze with your wisdom.....Does this mean that you are an Owl amongst us!!

13 Feb, 2012
bonkersbon said:

An exceptional blog the cards...very artistic ! Thank you for all the folklore surrounding birds and St Valentines day...made for a fascinating read.Would be nice to think that a "charm" really did come from that superstition wouldnt it !

Thanks for the timely reminder re Nest Box Week.....think one of our robin boxes has a nest of field mice in residence as noticed a couple running in and out of the ivy where it is positioned !! Will be leaving them to it....just glad it is being put to good use..:)

14 Feb, 2012
deida said:

thanks David...brilliant blog

15 Feb, 2012
david said:

Thanks, Rob, for liking me to an owl - what a hoot! I have notebooks filled with jottings from anything "interesting" I read, and can, occasionally, put some together as a blog. :-)

Glad you enjoyed this, Bb. Great to read that your box has had probable winter residents. Some sources say that it is best to clean out the boxes after fledging, but I always follow the idea that this is best done later, just before the new season, as the boxes often become valued homes for many insects and small mammals during the cold months. :-)

You're very welcome, Deida. :-)

15 Feb, 2012
bonkersbon said:

Agree David as just confirmed field mice seen running in and out of the box and feeding on the peanuts on the feeder above ! What a wonderful world...:)

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