As a postscript to The Season of Swallows blog, I am currently intrigued by the collective nouns for the various birds who visit this garden. I am delighted to find that the collective noun for swallows is a “flight” while owls, another of my favourite bird species, form a “parliament” – stressing their air of wisdom, but maybe also their inability to agree on political matters. In Spring and Autumn these skies are filled with the creaking of wings and the melancholy cries of flock after flock of Canada geese crossing over the house in a V shape formation. For a keen knitter, accustomed to winding her own wool, what a pleasure to learn that a group of flying geese is known as a “skein” of geese.
Other birds who inhabit this garden and the fields and woodland nearby include; buzzards, sparrows, crows, magpies, snipe, martins and woodpeckers. Some have a sinister reputation – reflected in their collective nouns – a “wake” of buzzards, a “murder” of crows, a “quarrel” of sparrows and a “mischief” of magpies. Kinder versions exist; a “storytelling” of crows, a “wisp” of snipe and a “richness” of martins, reminiscent of fairy tales while a “pitying” of doves sounds a long way from the soft cooing calls of our more optimistic wood pigeons. Woodpeckers always appear to be alone in this garden, but to see a “descent” of woodpeckers would be a spectacular sight.
Some of these collective nouns are quite bizarre; a “herd” of wrens evokes an idea of large domestic animals, rather than tiny birds, a “kettle” of hawks, a “bazaar” of guillemots and a “siege” of herons do not fire the imagination. On the other hand, a “clamour” of rooks, a “murmuration” of starlings, a “screech” of gulls and a “clattering” of jackdaws, make perfect sense. Although not a bird that lives in this particular garden, peacocks do strut around in some of the grander local gardens and their collective noun must be my final choice – an “ostentation” of peacocks.
11th July, 2016