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A Murder, a Party, a Stare, or a Siege

What do you call a bunch of birds? a flock? a gaggle? or something more creative?

Collective nouns are a mixture of poetry, alliteration, and description. Victorians often made up names for groups of birds, as a parlor game. Many names bring a vision of the birds instantly to mind. How about this stare of owls? They're Burrowing Owls!

So what would a bunch of birders be called? A gaggle? A flock? A watch? Can you be more creative? Leave a comment below or post your answer on our Facebook page! Thanks.

Full Transcript

A Murder, a Party, a Stare, or a Siege?

Written by Ellen Blackstone

This is BirdNote. [American Crow: one caw]

One crow is just a crow. [American Crow: two caws] 

Two make a pair. Three might be a crowd, but a group of crows is called “a murder.” [American Crow: many caws] 

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 … 

[song of Western Meadowlark] 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? [Song of Western Meadowlark]

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. [Flock of “ducks” rising from water]

Now, here’s one that might be misnamed. Do you think all this noise should be called a “murmurration” of starlings? [Chatter and squawk of European Starlings]

So what would a group of BirdNote listeners be? Hmmm…

What’s your suggestion?  Let us know at 


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 Ambient by C.Peterson
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2012 Tune In to     September 2012 / September 2015    Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#091505nouns        language-01b

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