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Getting the right name for multiples of animals, birds

Published: Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

The English language contains words that denote a specific number in a group of objects.

For example, in a dozen eggs or golf balls or automobiles, there is 1 dozen of these items. Likewise, a gross of nails or paper cups means that there are 144 – 12 dozen – similar objects.

A score is a group of 20 objects. A score of chain contains 20 links. President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address begins with the line, “Four score and 7 years ago …” It means 87 years ago. The Gettysburg Address was delivered in 1863 – 87 years after the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1776.

Animals are organized into groups with unique names. Almost everyone is familiar with herds of horses, prides of lions, and flocks of geese. Fewer people know that a group of wild turkeys is a rafter; a group of domestic turkeys is a flock.

Some groups of animals that have similar appearances also share a common name. For example, a group of clams and a group of oysters are both a bed. In some cases, the group name refers to the appearance of a large group of a species of animal. Large groups of gnats or grasshoppers are clouds.

Some names of groups of animals have interesting names. Groups of crows are murders. The name may have originated because flocks of crows kill and eat injured animals. Some of these animals were large, such as cattle. A group of magpies is also collectively called a murder, possibly for the same reason. A parliament of owls refers to the scholarly and dignified appearance of these birds. Likewise, a pride of lions also suggests the prideful appearance of these animals.

Within a group of animals, some sub-groups have collective names that are vastly different from the general group name. Usually, large groups of deer are herds. However, a group of roe deer, however, is a bevy. A group of hawks is a cast. A kettle of hawks is a large group of hawks flying over the same location. Several hawks flying together in the same spiral pattern is a boil. A gaggle of geese is a group of geese on the ground. However, when they take flight, the collective term for the group is skein.

Often, the same name is applied to different groups of different species of animals. A group of monkeys or kangaroos is called a troop. Groups of whales or seals are pods.

The condition or state of a group of animals sometimes dictates the name of the group. A group of wild rabbits is a warren or colony, but a group of domestic rabbits is a herd. A group of ducks swimming on the water is a raft. When that same group of ducks leaves the water and walks on land, it becomes a flock.

Castaldo is a biology instructor at Sauk Valley Community College. Write critterdoctor@hotmail.com to contact him.

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