Opinion: Flambouyant flamingos and murderous crows


Commentary by Ward Degler

When I lived in South Dakota, September meant pheasant hunting. Sorry to say I wasn’t a very good shot, so even though I saw a lot of birds, I never bagged one.

Pheasants assembled in flocks I thought, along with ducks, geese, partridge and various other game birds, except for quail, which scampered about in coveys.

Apparently, I was mistaken. The official terms of venery, a list of collective nouns for animals, declares pheasants abound in bouquets. I suppose all that colorful plumage does resemble a vase of flowers.

Venery, it seems, got started in 14th-century England with William Witi, who was the official huntsman for King Edward II. His treatise proclaimed that every good knight should have names for herds, flocks and gatherings of all animals.

To get things off to a good start, he penned three different terms for animal droppings. Within a hundred years his successors had expanded the droppings list to seven. They also came up with a book on the subject, “The Boke of Albans,” which included 70 different terms for various animal herds.

I can’t imagine royal knights hunting all of these animals, but here are a few of those listed in the book. Some terms are charming and appropriate, others not so much.

Alligators come in congregations, some sort of reptilian religious order, I suppose. Most folks would agree that butterflies just naturally assemble in flutters, and that flamingos gather in flamboyances.

You’ll find a business of ferrets, a bloat of hippopotamuses and a coalition of cheetahs. Dolphins, however, are more finicky. A group of males is an alliance, females swim in parties, and if it’s a mixture of males and females, it’s a team. I have seen dolphins swim alongside our boat in Key West, but I’m not sure I could tell if they were boys or girls.

A group of peacocks is an ostentation. Duck-billed platypus come in puddles, a group of wombats is a wisdom, and a flock of starlings is called a murmuration. I agree with starlings. They’ll start their fall migration flights any day now, and when several thousand birds land in my backyard it sounds like a political convention.

A group of jellyfish is a smack, which is what they sound like when they collide with a speeding motor boat. A group of crows is a murder, and geese of all kinds come in gaggles.

I don’t go pheasant hunting anymore. After all, who wants to shoot a bouquet?

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