Issue: 2016-11-16, PHOTO: by Paul Rath
Bald Headed Eagles gather in mid-November. A convocation of eagles
In my last article, we learned that many collective nouns originated in the Late Middle Ages, and were recorded in The Book of Saint Albans. Collective nouns are the words used to describe groups of things. We refer to a flight of stairs without even realizing that this collective noun has origins in the Middle Ages.
In this article we are going to look at geese, eagles and ravens, and the collective nouns for each group.
Canada geese can be found from one end of this great nation to the other. It would not be incorrect to refer to a bunch of geese as a flock. This is a good term for general purposes. With geese however, depending on their physical location: land, water, or in flight, there is a corresponding and more precise collective noun.
If you come upon geese on land, you would refer to them as a gaggle. Gaggle, as we learned last time, was also recorded by Juliana Berners in the Book of Saint Albans to describe a group of swans. This is much the same as we would use ‘herd’ for a group of cows or deer. We can also refer to a group of geese on the ground as a herd and a corps.
If the geese are on water, they are a plump.
If in flight, geese are referred to as a skein. The online resource Dictionary.com defines skein as: a flock of geese, ducks, or the like, in flight.
Skein is also used in reference to clusters of eggs, such as those found in salmon or trout.
A skein of geese would be a random in pattern in the sky - perhaps small clusters. If geese are in flight, and flying in a V formation, you would refer to them as a wedge, probably inspired by the shape.
Another set of useful collective nouns refer to gatherings of eagles. Think about driving down the Haines Highway in November when the eagles have gathered. You will observe a dozen or more eagles in one tree.
“Look at that aerie of eagles,” you will say with confidence.
Aerie is defined as: a brood of birds of prey and the nest of a bird on a cliff or a mountaintop.
Eagles often like to perch on a snag or other tall tree. Eagle nests are also massive structures built high on the top of a tree. The word for eagle nest, aerie, is the word for a group of eagles.
Convocation is another collective noun for eagles. That is a regal sounding word, worthy of eagles.
Keep the collective nouns in mind this year, and hop over the border to Haines between Nov. 14 to 19 to take part in the American Bald Eagle Festival.
The raven, which is the territorial bird of the Yukon, also has a few interesting collective nouns associated with it. A murder of ravens is the collective noun listed in The Book of Saint Albans.
This collective noun is more often associated with crows. Crows and ravens, although similar in appearance, are very different. According to the question-answering website, Quora.com, there is a folk tale that crows will gather and decide the capital fate of another crow. This is based on the alleged behaviour of crows killing a crow that is sick or does not belong to the group.
The site states that for many people, the appearance of a raven or crow is an omen of death, maybe because both bird scavenge dead meat.
Other collective nouns for ravens include: a conspiracy of ravens, a congress of ravens, and an unkindness of ravens. There is also a storytelling of ravens.
Perhaps the real answer to the mystery of where collective nouns came from is that they reflect a time and place where groupings of animals had colourful and poetic names.
In my next article we will examine the collective nouns for some mammals near and far.