May 2, 2012

A Dissimulation of Birds...

Being a true nerd, my love of words almost matches my love for birds.  Along those lines, I also love books, and I particularly enjoy old books.  I love the way they smell and feel, the secret rush of reading pages older than I am.  I have a favorite in my library that warrants sharing because of its peculiar yet fascinating content.  Though not really old, it's titled An Exaltation of Larks or, The Venereal Game by James Lipton (Grossman Publishers, 1968).  While searching online a few years ago, I found an inexpensive and pretty beat-up hardcover copy that had been withdrawn from a library in New Mexico...

I recently revisited this etymological beauty with it's wonderful illustrations of old engravings.  Then I decided to glean the historical bird-related collective nouns, or nouns of multitude, from it's pages and share them with you.  Don't mention it, you're totally welcome.

Now we've all heard, and likely used the terms "a gaggle of geese", or "a skein of geese; "a raft of ducks"; "a murder of crows"; "a clutch of eggs"; or even "a murmuration of starlings".  But here is a list of lesser known, and certainly lesser-used voluble treasures that will make your inner-bird-nerd giggle with delight:

A spring of teal

A rafter of turkeys (though I think "a goblet" would be more appropriate)

A walk of snipe

A fall of woodcocks

A siege of herons

A charm of finches

A cast of hawks

A deceit of lapwings

A bouquet of pheasants

A tidings of magpies

A congregation of plovers

An unkindness of ravens (this one is unfair in my opinion!)

A host of sparrows
A watch of nightingales

A mustering of storks

A gulp of cormorants

A stand of flamingos

A paddling of ducks

An ostentation of peacocks

A pitying of turtledoves

A flight of swallows

And for my three personal favorites:

A parliament of owls

A descent of woodpeckers (I think this one is also applicable to nuthatches)

A family of biologists

I motion to add "a blur of shorebirds"; "a confusion of gulls"; "a chortle of chickadees"; "a wagging of phoebes"; and "a kaleidoscope of warblers" to the list.  Any thoughts?

If these really got you going, then I suggest you find yourself a copy of James Lipton's An Exaltation of Larks because it's chock full of other gems such as "a skulk of foxes"; "a richness of martens"; "a labor of moles"; "a hack of smokers"; and "an odium of politicians".  But in the words of Reading Rainbow's LeVar Burton - "you don't have to take my word for it".  

I'll see you next time...



  1. I like your suggestions and would like to add "a taunting of kinglets" (at least if you are a photographer you'll know what I mean. I think they hear the autofocus beep and say "that's my cue to move") "a chitter of swifts" and "a splat of gulls" (referring of course to evidence they've been near my car when I park on Commercial St in Portland.)

    1. Great additions! The other morning I had a ruby-crowned do exactly what you described. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Ostentatious? Peacocks? ...oh, yeah, I guess so.

    A clark of Lewis' Woodpeckers

    A lewis of Clark's Nutcrackers

    A wig of Bald Eagles

    An eye of Storm Petrels.

    This is a lot of fun but I should stop now. Thanks for posting Lauren, I always read your stuff with great relish, and not just because I'm eating hotdogs.

    1. Those are all really good ones! I particularly like the play on Lewis and Clark. I had to stop myself too, it's sort of addicting...

      Thanks for the kind words!

  3. Interesting post. I do so love word play, too. And yes, my perverse mind is on overtime with the stimulation of ideas for names for bunches of birds.

    1. Perfect, I was hoping it would get minds cranking! Thanks for reading!

  4. Sorry, my obscure sense of humor just gave me, "A Crack of Towhees."

  5. Delightful post!! I love words and books, too, and have written this down to hunt for my very own copy! ~karen

    1. Thanks for reading and for the kind words!

  6. Linda Savell Gilpatrick Smith5/27/2012 03:26:00 AM

    I learn something wonderful everytime I read your offerings. My faces are ' a watch of Nightingales' and a 'parliament of owls'. An informative, completely enjoyable read! You have always enjoyed books and words.

  7. "A Repetition of Mockingbirds?" "A Mewling of Catbirds?" "A Flush of Grouse?"

    We’ve been big fans of Lipton’s book for ages — but have found few, if any, specific collective nouns for plants. We decided to remedy that situation with a book of photos and botanical wordplay (consisting, all to frequently, of truly terrible puns — don’t say we didn’t warn you). It’s called “Terms of Vegery,” and there are sample entries at:

    1. I love it! Thanks for reading and for the link, I thoroughly enjoy your blog!

  8. Ditto, Lauren! It's only fair to warn people... the collective noun habit is a difficult one to kick!

    There's an article about how we got started doing this (with some samples) at: