April 4, 2016
Rich’s Backyard Birds: April 2016
Hey Bird Guy! What is the proper collective noun for eagles?
-M.M. of FishHawk
Super fun question, M. Collective nouns are curious. Some seem to make sense, some seem forced, and some really make you scratch your head in wonderment. As far as eagles go, I’ve seen and heard several: gathering, convocation, congress and aerie. Which is correct, or can you just use the catch all collective noun, boatload? As best as I can tell, all are acceptable.
Way back in the olden days (yes, even before I was around) writers utilized a technique called poetic license. With this technique they could often use words in ways they hadn’t been used before, or even make up words to help enhance their writing. Who was going to argue with them? They were the writers after all. If anyone would know, it would be them. Some of these creative words and descriptions stuck, many of them collective nouns. Some were humorous. Some were based on perceived or imagined characteristics. Some were simply used to add to the mood the writer was trying to create. A murder of crows, comes to mind, as does a conspiracy of ravens. What did these birds ever do to deserve such macabre descriptors? They could have just as easily called them a charm of ravens, but no. They assigned charm to finches. I think the crows and ravens should consider a class action lawsuit for slander. I wonder who came up with a piteousness of doves. Piteousness? Seriously? Heck, I didn’t know piteousness was a word. Maybe it isn’t.
Generic collectives for birds are often used, like flock, flight, congregation, group or even covey. I think they are pushing it with volery or dissimulation. Sounds like someone was just trying to sound smart. Owls were always thought to be wise so they called a group a parliament. I bet they’d rethink that one these days.
Your question has given me a fun idea. Let’s have a “Create Your Own Collective Noun” contest. Here are the rules: Let’s keep it to birds so I’m not getting ideas like “an idiocy of columnists” or “a poverty of bird seed sellers.” Email your collective bird nouns to Rich@RichsBackyardBirds.com and I’ll select my favorite based on creativity and cleverness (as opposed to piteousness). The winner will receive a $25 gift certificate to, you guessed it, Rich’s Backyard Birds.
It’s fun and easy once you get started: a clergy of cardinals, a formality of penguins, a funeral of vultures, a litter of catbirds, a pontification of godwits. What? Tough crowd. No, a bucket of chicken will not be the winner. Have fun!