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Spring is the flocking season, when birds migrate in great numbers and birders have amazing opportunities to see huge concentrations not only of their favorite birds, but also of many temporary visitors passing through on their way to northern breeding grounds. I’ve been fortunate to see a wide range of flocks over the years, including a kettle, wake, sunning, cover, crookedness, raft, charm, flamboyance, flotilla, covey, gross and more.
We all know the names of our favorite birds, but did you know when those birds gather in large flocks, they take on whole new names? Some of the more fun and festive flock names include…
- A chain of boblinks
- A mewing of catbirds
- A spiral of creepers
- A squabble of gulls
- A glittering of hummingbirds
- An asylum of loons
- A whirligig of phalaropes
- A race of roadrunners
- A chime of wrens
Recently, I read the masterwork of collective nouns and group names, An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton. Not only does Lipton list a wide range of amazing nouns not just for birds but for different animals and groups of people, but he explores the origins of these often crazy monikers. His discussion is well thought out and helps decipher this colorful but often confusing language quite excellently, citing sources and historical uses of the words as appropriate, including how some slips of language and uncertain translations have led to many of the more unusual appellations.
I found it particularly fascinating that birds are some of the most “collectively nouned” animals of all, due to the prevalence and popularity of hunting throughout history. For a gentleman hunter, it wouldn’t do to simply say he’d seen a flock – it was considered uncultured and uneducated not to refer to the birds more precisely with their appropriate flock names. While it may no longer be at all fashionable to hunt many species as indiscriminately as in centuries past, birders can still use these fun and fascinating names to refer to their favorite flocks. Imagine the excitement when you are able to report a confusion, mustering, wisp or deceit from your latest birding trip!
Want to learn more about bird flock names? Find the complete list!