2016-02-11 / Nature

Google a Gaggle: A Lexicon for Bird Watchers

By Jack Kelly


A murder of crows roosting along Rhode Island Avenue. 
(Photo by Kirby Varacalli) A murder of crows roosting along Rhode Island Avenue. (Photo by Kirby Varacalli) For millennia, humankind has struggled to understand the mysteries and the role of nature in the many facets of daily life. Poets and writers, philosophers and artists, and everyday curious individuals have attempted to explain the natural world and give names to its denizens. Once satisfied with cataloging the wildlife of the world, efforts were made to give proper terminology to the herds and flocks of the natural world.

Many of the terms used today have their roots in old English expressions, as well as farm or hunting phrases. Geese gathered on the ground are known as a flock, but once airborne, are known as a skein. A gathering of larks is referred to as an exaltation, and a group of crows, a murder! A walk in the woods may reveal a knot of toads, a rafter of turkeys, or a walk of snipe. Oceanside observations can bring the sightings of a pod of seals, a gam of whales, or a shoal of bass.


1. Tufted titmouse, 2. Male cardinal, 3. Female cardinal and 4. Downy woodpecker. 1. Tufted titmouse, 2. Male cardinal, 3. Female cardinal and 4. Downy woodpecker. Depending on the habitat, many avian species are represented, including a siege of herons (for the way the birds doggedly await the prey at their feet), a charm of finches, a cast of hawks, a congregation of plovers, a host of sparrows, and a descent of woodpeckers.

Some of these classifications do make a great deal of sense. A group of owls, considered in folklore to be wise and judicious, is known as a parliament. However, a gathering of baboons is known as a congress, leading some to wonder how our young nation was perceived in earlier times.

Exploring the history and nomenclature of wildlife, as well as the personal stories involved in linguistic endeavors, offers a view into mankind’s quest to understand the natural world.

For more examples of these humorous couplings, “An Exaltation of Larks” by James Lipton, (c 1974, illustrated, 118 pages) makes for excellent armchair reading. Reminder: Please do not feed bread to waterfowl such as ducks and geese. It has no nutritional value, may cause digestive system failures, and can lead to the death of the birds. Please provide waterfowl with birdseed or cracked corn, which are staples of their diets. Bird seed and feeders are available at most area supermarkets and other retailers, while arts and crafts websites have a number of family projects for making homemade bird feeders and watering stations. The reward is the sight of nature’s beauty and the continued good health of the avian life surrounding us.





(Photos by Jack Kelly) (Photos by Jack Kelly)

Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.

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