Friday, August 28, 2009
A MURDER OF CROWS
In our travels, we see a variety of interesting birds. Ever present is the corvid family of crows and ravens. I was never sure of the difference between a crow and a raven, but I know now. Very little. If its huge, its likely a raven.
I listened one morning to raven-speak, while four of them squawked in one timbre and two others called to each other, over the chatter, in a distinctly different tone of voice. I wondered, do males sound different than females? What could they be saying? I tried taking pictures of them but small digitals don't do a great job on birds. (Blame the camera, right?)
Anyway, it brought to mind the old English ditty that I no longer recall but it begins, a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens, a scold of jays, a cast of hawks, and so on. What I found when I tried to look it up, not a ditty, but venery. Old language forms for things in a group. I was quite amazed at the variety, many familiar as in a school of fish, a pride of lions, a string of horses.
From just the birds I could identify having seen on this three month trip came these interesting group identifiers: an ostentation of peacocks, a colony of gulls, a charm of goldfinches, a wedge of geese (flying) a gaggle of geese (walking), a siege of herons, a convocation of eagles, a raft of ducks, a cote of doves, a nide of pheasants, a company of parrots, a parliament of owls, a murmuration of starlings, a descent of woodpeckers, a flock of turkeys.
A flock of turkeys? Oh, I was so disappointed. A simple flock of turkeys for a bird that is huge and colorful with wattles wriggling down its face, blue feet, and a distinct gobble? Surely the ancients could have come up with something better than that?
I guess they didn't have turkeys in England. I propose we coin the group noun for turkeys a gabble of turkeys or a gossip of turkeys. Hmm, they didn't have parrots, either.
Antiquarians over the years have added to the original list to include: an army of frogs, a mob of emus, weyr of dragons, a huddle of penguins, a barren of mules, a shrewd of apes, a glint of goldfish, a cloud of gnats, mischief of mice, a bloat of hippotomi, a tower of giraffes, a parade of elephants...
Gosh, this is fun.
Then others, with tongue in cheek, chose to define a clutch of mechanics, a tedium of golfers, a drunk of bartenders, a wince of dentists, a shrivel of critics, a scissors of hairdressers, omigod. Its so easy and fun to play the game.
But living creatures aren't the only groups. Cynthia Helms mother defined her jewelry as:
a twinkle of diamonds
a glitter of emeralds
a burst of rubies
a sparkle of sequins
a shimmer of sapphires
a dazzle of topaz
a bed of pearls
James Lipton published the ultimate book on venery entitled An Exaltation Of Larks, The Ultimate Edition. I'm going to buy it.
But, before I sign off, a murder of crows is called a murder because a huge number of crows can attack and actually "murder" a cow or other large animal. In the dark ages, supposedly, they would put offenders in a "crow cage", where the birds could peck the miscreant to death. Arrggh!