In Winter, Old German Tradition Celebrates Bird Mating Season

The following article by Gary Clark (texasbirder@comcast.net) was first published in the Houston Chronicle Star on Saturday, January 20, 2018 and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.


            The Sorbs of Lusatia, Germany, celebrated an ancient winter tradition known as Vogelhochzeit, or the “Bird’s Wedding.” Reader Leo Symmank – whose ancestors were among the Sorbs, aka Wends, who immigrated to Texas in the 1850s and founded the town of Serbin near Giddings – wrote to tell me about the tradition.

            The Wendish custom had children place plates of seeds outside for the birds on the eve of their wedding.

            “We did put out seeds in a can for Vogelhochzeit on the evening of Jan. 24,” Symmank wrote. “On the morning of Jan. 25, in some traditions, the children would find pastries and candy in the form of birds, which they were told had been left by birds celebrating their wedding.”

            A Wendish children’s song had a thrush as the groom and a blackbird as the bride, while ducks and geese played music for the wedding ceremony.

            Here’s a stanza:

                        “The house sparrow is preparing the wedding meal

   And he’s eating the best bites himself.” 

            I’ll attest to house sparrows cribbing the best bites at my bird feeders, whether or not birds are celebrating a wedding.         

            Then again, maybe the birds indeed getting married. Our bluebirds have already been pairing up and will have eggs in the nest by late February.

            A male northern cardinal has been singing his fervent crooning a song for days.

            Male Carolina Wrens are belting out multiple wooing songs, sometimes more than 50. How can a female wren resist so many upbeat love songs?

            Male purple martins will soon show up at our martin house to set up a home for females arriving later.

            And those doggone house sparrows will be interlopers in the martin residence.

            On the sweeping landscape of the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge near Sealy, male prairie chickens are preparing for one of the great mating ceremonies of the bird world.

            lt begins in March, when males gather on prairie rises called leks, where they do vigorous jumping jacks with frenetic wing flapping, while whooping and cackling, all for the sake of importuning a female mate.

            The Wends knew that bird courtship and mating in no way replicated human weddings. Yet their longstanding celebration of the Bird’s Wedding surely cemented in the minds of children the beauty and joy of birds.

            Meanwhile, I’m putting out food for birds on the eve of their wedding. And I’ll gladly gobble up pastries they leave for me the next morning.

Posted in The Wendish Research Project.

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