On a good day in the field, a birder might see a raft, a band, a host, a chime and even a kettle. But what exactly are they seeing? What would you call a group of flamingos, a swarm of swallows or a flock of eagles? Different types of birds have different collective nouns to describe large groups, and while many of the terms are obsolete, seldom used or just plain silly, they are still familiar to birders.
Many flock names are descriptive not only of the group of birds but also of their behavior or personalities. Birders who understand these esoteric words and can apply them to the appropriate birds will enjoy birding even more.
Names for Groups of Birds
Several collective nouns can apply to all bird species, such as flock, colony, fleet, parcel and dissimulation. Other not-so-common flock names that can be used for any type of bird include cloud, mass, collection or just plain group or throng. In fact, any generic name for a large group - whether it is people, animals or birds - could be applied to a flock. Birders, however, know there are unique and distinctive names for specific bird flocks.
Special Flock Names
When a flock consists of just one type of bird or closely related species of birds, specialized terms are often used to describe the group. The most colorful and creative flock names include...
- Birds of Prey (hawks, falcons): Cast, cauldron, kettle
- Bobolinks: Chain
- Buzzards: Wake
- Cardinals: College, conclave, radiance, Vatican
- Catbirds: Mewing
- Chickadees: Banditry
- Cormorants: Flight, gulp, sunning, swim
- Coots: Cover
- Cowbirds: Corral, herd
- Cranes: Herd, dance
- Creepers: Spiral
- Crossbills: Crookedness, warp
- Crows: Murder, congress, horde, muster, cauldron
- Doves: Bevy, cote, flight
- Ducks: Raft, team, paddling
- Eagles: Convocation, congregation, aerie
- Emus: Mob
- Finches: Charm, trembling
- Flamingos: Flamboyance, stand
- Frigatebirds: Fleet, flotilla
- Game Birds (quail, grouse, ptarmigan): Covey, pack, bevy
- Geese: Skein, wedge, gaggle, plump
- Godwits: Omniscience, prayer, pantheon
- Grosbeaks: Gross
- Gulls: Colony, squabble, flotilla, scavenging, gullery
- Herons: Siege, sedge, scattering
- Hoatzins: Herd
- Hummingbirds: Charm, glittering, shimmer, tune, bouquet, hover
- Jays: Band, party, scold, cast
- Kingbirds: Coronation, court, tyranny
- Kingfishers: Concentration, relm, clique, rattle
- Lapwings: Deceit
- Larks: Bevy, exaltation, ascension, happiness
- Loons: Asylum, cry, water dance
- Mallards: Sord, flush
- Nightingales: Watch
- Owls: Parliament, wisdom, study, bazaar, glaring
- Parrots: Pandemonium, company, prattle
- Peafowl: Party, ostentation
- Pelicans: Squadron, pod, scoop
- Penguins: Colony, huddle, creche, waddle
- Phalaropes: Swirl, twirl, whirl, whirligig
- Pheasants: Nye, bevy, bouquet
- Plovers: Congregation
- Quail: Drift, flush, rout
- Ravens: Murder, congress, horde, unkindness
- Roadrunners: Race, marathon
- Rooks: Clamour, parliament, building
- Sapsuckers: Slurp
- Skimmers: Scoop
- Snipe: Walk, wisp
- Sparrows: Host, quarrel, knot, flutter, crew
- Starlings: Chattering, affliction, murmuration, scourge, constellation
- Storks: Mustering
- Swallows: Flight, gulp
- Swans: Wedge, ballet, lamentation, whiteness, regatta
- Teals: Spring
- Terns: Cotillion
- Turkeys: Rafter, gobble, gang, posse
- Vultures: Committee, venue, volt, wake
- Warblers: Confusion, wrench, fall
- Woodpeckers: Descent, drumming
- Wrens: Herd, chime
When Is a Flock a Flock?
Not every group of birds is automatically a flock. Two characteristics that generally constitute a flock are...
- Numbers: Just two or three birds is not usually a flock, but there is no set minimum number of birds needed to call a group a flock. In general, larger groups are always considered flocks, while smaller groups may be flocks if the birds are not often seen in groups. For example, gregarious birds such as gulls, ducks and starlings are often seen in very large groups, so just a half dozen of these birds together would not usually be called a flock. Less social birds, however, such as hummingbirds or grosbeaks, would be considered a flock of there were only a few birds, since they are much less likely to gather in larger groups.
- Species: Any large group of birds, no matter how many different species make up the group, can be called a flock if only a general flock term is used. The more unique, specialized terms, however, are only used for single-species flocks. The exception is when all the species that make up the flock are still in the same related family. A flock of sparrows, for example, can still be called a knot, flutter, host, quarrel or crew even if several sparrow species are part of the group. A group of wading birds, however, is just a flock if there are herons, godwits, egrets, flamingos, storks and plovers all mixed in the crowd.
The collective nouns for different groups of birds can be a fun bit of birding lingo to use when describing what you see in the field. How many will you see?