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Why the '12 Days of Christmas' list is for the birds

Shopping online for all the birds in the classic "The 12 Days of Christmas" can be an exercise in patience and frustration. Plus it can be darned expensive.

We're sure you heard the big news: It now costs over $107,000 if you were to buy all the items listed in the "12 Days of Christmas" song, according to PNC Wealth Management's annual "Christmas Price Index," or "CPI" as it's so very cleverly referred to. But that's not the whole story, because six of the items in the list are birds.  

What if you really want to buy all those birds for your "true love," and you wanted to buy them them online?

PNC got their numbers for the birds from the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, and they, of course, don't have an online retail store. And where do you get a "French Hen," or a "Calling Bird," let alone four of them? 

Shopping for all the birds in the song online is a real budget buster, especially when you consider shipping. After all, you can't exactly get the supplies for shipping a live goose "a-laying" at Kinko's.

Many of the providers are small farms that have their own websites, and are listed here for example, and for humorous purposes. OK, mainly the latter. Another big caveat is that most hatcheries require you to place your order in advance for the next round of breeding and are already sold out for 2012. It's also a lot easier and cheaper to buy birds as chicks or eggs, and then grow them to size, rather than trying to buy and then having breeders ship an adult bird. For that you're better off driving up to a few farms to fill your order. So, start planning ahead for Christmas 2013!

Also, yes, PNC provides an index showing the online cost of buying these items that's costlier than the main index that gets reported. But it doesn't receive as much attention and we wanted to go check out the online prices ourselves and compare them to the central Christmas Price Index.

Last, owning another living creature is a right and a privilege and you shouldn't place any real orders, let alone as a joke, unless the recipient can truly care for it as long as they own it. 

That said, ho ho ho and fa la la la la, let's dive in.

7 Swans-a-Swimming

Swans mate for life, so to get seven you're going to need to buy eight. Maybe you can use the extra as backup in case one of the swans is a poor swimmer. Purelypoultry.com is a site for a small farm in Fremont, Wis., that also subcontracts orders to other hatcheries and breeders. It's like drop shipping for cygnets instead of cellphones. They sell pairs of black-necked swans directly online for $4,500, with a $400 shipping cost. Not to your doorstep, however, but to your local post office. It's not exactly the kind of item you can leave next to the newspaper and stable boy statue.

Let's not forget either that the swans are supposed to be "a-swimming." For that, you can get four kiddie pools on Amazon for $79.96. You need four because swans are very territorial. The National Aviary quoted $7,000, an 11.1 percent increase from last year, but our online shopping cart total came to $19,679.96.

The cost of this one item alone means you'll be well over $107,000 if you were to buy up all the items in the "12 days of Christmas" song.

6 Geese-A-Laying

There's a big problem with this part of the tune. Geese usually lay their eggs in the spring, and Christmas is usually in December. And by usually I mean always. So tell your true love that these geese will be "a-laying" in a few months from now.

Another note of discord is that in order to get six geese making goslings, you'll need a dozen geese in all. Six females, and six male partners, as geese are monogamous. At metzerfarms.com, they're sold out for 2012, so you might as well place an order for twelve goslings and grow them to size in time for the next holiday season. Prices for 2013 aren't set yet, but in 2012 it was twelve Roman Tufted goslings for $16.09 each, plus free shipping! That beats the National Aviary quoted price of $210 -- a 29.6 percent increase from last year, by the way, reflecting this year's drought and the ensuing skyrocketing price of grain. Total: $193.08

4 Calling Birds

What the heck is a "calling bird?" In the oldest extant written version of the song, the items in this verse were listed as "canary birds." Later versions switched it to "colly birds," "colly" being a term for "coal-covered," i.e. "blackbirds." That's sort of a weird holiday gift, so let's stick with those cute little chirpers. 

It was hard to find a reputable-looking online store selling canaries but there are a slew of private breeders. Caveat emptor in this dodgy world full of shady characters, so check out their selling history and ask for references. The cost range was $60-$100 per bird, plus around $40 shipping. Total: $280-$560, which means the National Aviary's price of $519.96 came in at the high end.

Their price was the same last year, perhaps reflecting stability and low costs in the domestic coal market.

3 French Hens

Hens? We got those. What makes a French hen? Does it wear a beret? Well how about the "Houdan," a breed of hen native to France, boasting an eye-catching mottled plumage, a large crest that makes it look like it's going to a masquerade ball, and five toes instead of the usual four. The French, always on the avante-garde of fashion.

Billing itself as "The Web's Source for Waterfowl, Chickens, and Game Birds," eFowl.com sells a minimum order of fifteen chicks for $2.59 each, plus a $9.99 small order charge for being under 26 chicks. Like the geese, you'll need to acquire these for the spring and raise them for your true love's holiday package by winter. Rearing them yourself and absorbing the corn costs handily saves you $116.16 off the Christmas Price Index. Total: $48.44

2 Turtle Doves

Turtle doves are a bit harder to come by. Strombergschickens.com listed pairs for $215 shipped, a bit pricier than the CPI listing of $125, but their farm isn't selling them anymore. However, a nationwide search of Craigslist turned up a guy in Michigan selling the deuce for $12. He didn't respond to inquiries about shipping, so we're left to assume you have to pick them up yourself. Total: $12, plus cost of plane ticket and car rental.

And a partridge... 

If you want to order partridges online, you'll have to get them as a chick or an egg, and you can't get just one. Every site we saw had a minimum of 30-50 partridges. Cacklehatchery had 30 at $2.67 each for $80.10, plus $23.10 shipped at 1 day of age and a guaranteed 2-3 day delivery. Total: $103.20, a bit more dear than the the CPI's $15.

...in a pear tree.

One 6-7 ft Ayers Pear Tree, large enough to support the weight of a partridge, could be had at The Nursery at Ty Ty for $59.75 plus $20 shipping. The CPI's cost listing was $189.99. Our Total: $79.75.