History & Research

Little Birdie in the Tree

By on June 18, 2014

My niece turns two this week! I can’t believe how quickly these past two years have gone.

When she was a newborn, I had the privilege of helping rock her to sleep on many occasions. Like any good aunt, I would sing to her all the songs my mother used to sing to me.

One of my favorites is a little tune called Little Birdie in the Tree. Mom sang it to us, Grandma sang it too−at the time, I thought it was as common as any other childhood lullaby.

I mentioned it once to a coworker, and I was shocked to discover that she, a children’s librarian, had never heard of it. Neither had any of my other coworkers (at the time). In fact, the more people I polled, the more I realized that nobody knew what I was talking about.

So, being the good little librarian that I am, I hit Google to find out more. 😉

After a few hours of searching for an audio sample (no joke), I came across a partial recording of the song that was fairly similar, from Lyon College’s John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection:


Good, I think, I’m not crazy! But I still had no idea where this song came from. Clearly not from Texas, so I assumed. I’ve since found a 1939 recording of a man from Houston, but there’s no information on who introduced the song to him. The woman in the audio above was from Arkansas, but if you listen closely at the end, even she is unsure of its origins.

My grandmother was born in Pennsylvania, however, and she said her mother sang it to her as well, so I directed my search there.

Finally, I stumbled across my answer: the song came from an old Sunday School hymnal, published  in 1871, by Philip Paul Bliss. It circulated around Ohio and west Pennsylvania, but not any further than that, as far as I could find. (Let me know if you’ve discovered more information! My search is not complete.)

My theory now is that this lullaby was passed down from my great great grandmother, who was born in Butler Pennsylvania in 1879. Of course, it could have come from her husband, born 1871. Hmm…

The best part of this story? I found one of these original hymnals on eBay!


See the full lyrics here on Google Books

So thank you, Penelope, for inspiring Aunt Sarah to track down a cool piece of family history. Happy Birthday, my sweet girl! 🙂

I’m curious to see if anyone else is familiar with this little song, or its history. Let me know in the comments!

  1. Sue

    April 13, 2016

    OMG! My grandmother used to sing this whole song to us at bedtime, but it wasn’t “red bird,” it was “little birdie!” And I remember a part about it putting its head ‘neath its wing. I hope I can find the whole song somewhere, this gives me hope!

    • Sarah

      April 14, 2016

      Hi Sue! That’s awesome, glad I could help! Did you check out the Google Books link? It has the full lyrics, and I think they contain both variations.

      Where was your grandmother from? I’m curious if my theory of it originally being more of a regional thing holds true. 😊

  2. Anne

    August 21, 2016

    So glad to find your post! My grandmother sang this song to my dad and aunt when they were children in the ’50s, to my cousins and me when we were kids in the ’80s, and now sings it to my daughter. She was born in Pittsburgh in 1926 and remembers her grandmother (also from Pittsburgh) singing it to her as a little girl. It’s always been “birdie” and a little different from the hymnal version. “Sing about the robin in the tree so tall. Sing about the roses on the garden wall.” My granddad would pipe in with “boom boom boom.” We were just wondering about the song’s origins, aside from family history, which prompted the Google search that lead me to you!

    • Sarah

      August 21, 2016

      That’s amazing! And yes it’s always been “birdie” for us too, no “robins” or “blackbirds” named. Thank you for sharing your story, and I’m so glad I could help! 🙂

  3. Dawn Heckman

    October 13, 2016

    Hello, My sweet grandma, Ella, would sing “Little Birdie in the Tree” to us when we were little. We lived in Pittsburgh, but had a cabin in the Butler area. What wonderful memories we have of that song. We continue to sing it to our little ones.

    • Sarah

      November 18, 2016

      Thank you for sharing your story! <3

  4. Becki Breece

    November 18, 2016

    My mom always sang this to us and now her grandkids. My 3 year old daughter won’t go to bed without singing “birdies” never knew it’s origin. It’s interesting to see how it has changed over the years and even fromore my mom to me it has slightly changed. We sing “sign about the flowers on the garden wall” my mom always said “roses”
    Thanks for sharing the cool info.
    I found a picture online a while back of old sheet music similar (but different) to the one you shared.

    • Sarah

      November 18, 2016

      That’s so awesome! Glad I could help. 🙂 It’s neat to see the little differences families have made to the song. And I love hearing other people’s stories about it, thank you for sharing yours!

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