Collective nouns for groups of animals are sometimes descriptive (herd of deer, flock of birds, colony of bats, pack of wolves, or school of fish), or sometimes pertinent to particular behaviors of animals, like a crash of rhinos, swarm of bees, caravan of camels, tower of giraffes, or pandemonium of parrots. But often the terms for a particular animal group are just fanciful, like dazzle of zebra, implausibility of gnus, charm of hummingbirds, or a siege of herons. It’s important, you know, to recognize these groups of wildlife by their proper title.
Walking around the sloughs at Don Edwards SF Bay National wildlife refuge the other day, I came across the following scene:
Like so many other collective nouns for animals, the term for a bunch of Kildeer seems to have no relationship to the bird itself — they are called a “season” of Kildeer. Which makes me wonder if we only see an assemblage (congregation) of this many Kildeer at certain times (season) of the year.
You might wonder how this practice of naming groups of animals got started? It turns out that these collective nouns are part of a hunting language that included terms for humans as well as animals, developed in England and France in the 1400s. They were compiled into The Book of St. Albans, published in 1486, and apparently the terms have stuck with us today, especially those describing groups of various bird and mammal species.