What Do You Call a Group of Birds?

Collective nouns are a mixture of poetry, alliteration, and description.

This story comes to you through a partnership between Audubon and BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.

[audioplayer:74251|align:left|caption:A murder, a party, a stare, a siege...]

One crow is just a crow. Two make a pair. Three might be a crowd, but a group of crows is called “a murder.” A fitting name for this bunch of rascals! How did such a name come about? 

According to James Lipton, author of An Exaltation of Larks, these names—called collective nouns—have been around for hundreds of years. Others believe that the Victorians invented many of these names as a fanciful parlor game. Collective nouns are a mixture of poetry, alliteration, and description. These labels are not used by ornithologists, but they add a bit of fun to the study of birds, don’t you think?

If you’ve ever watched a parade of swans on a lake, you can see why it’s called a “wedge” of swans. Bold, raucous jays make up a “party” of jays. Many names bring an image of the birds instantly to mind: a “stare” of owls, a “company” of parrots, a “spring” of teal.

Now, here’s one that might be misnamed. Do you think all this noise should be called a “murmurration” of starlings?

So what would a group of BirdNote listeners be? Hmmm? What’s your suggestion? Let us know at birdnote.org. I’m Michael Stein.  

Call of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Crows recorded by G.A. Keller and A.B. VandenBerg; Western Meadowlark by W.R. Fish; and flock of ducks 2479 rising from the water by A.A. Allen.
Sound of European Starlings provided by Martyn Stewart of naturesound.org. Ambient by C.Peterson 
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2012 Tune In to Nature.org     September 2012     Narrator: Michael Stein

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