Birds often gather in groups, at least for part of the year. Many birds pair up for the breeding season but migrate and spend the winter in huge groups, sometimes numbering in the thousands.
What are these groups called, and are there any differences from one kind of bird to the next?
A group of birds is typically called a flock, but some flocks have special names. Let’s look at why birds flock, and what other collective nouns can be used.
What Is a Flock? And Why Do Birds Migrate in Flocks?
A flock of birds is any gathering of birds, whether they are traveling together or foraging together. Most commonly, flocks are part of their migratory behavior.
Migration requires birds to be out in the open. This is a vulnerable place to be. Think about how protected a bird is in a nest, in the brush, or in the branches of a summer tree. Now, imagine a bird during migration: thousands of miles, out in the open, unprotected.
Traveling in a large flock offers protection because there are far more birds for predators to target.
Additionally, flocks provide warmth. Juvenile birds who are still learning to navigate the world benefit from flocks because there are other birds around to warn them of danger and help fight off predators.
Traveling in a flock is an adaptive behavior that keeps birds safe.
Sometimes, there are other reasons to gather in a flock, like when Northern Shovelers group together in the water and begin to spin in a pinwheel movement. This cooperation helps them stir up the mud and silt at the bottom of the water, which gives them access to their rich diet of crustaceans and invertebrates.
Birds That Form Large Flocks
Some birds form larger flocks than others. If you see a very large group of birds (numbers in the thousands or even millions), it is likely one of these large-flock communities:
- European starlings
The largest recorded flock in the world was a massive group of Red-Winged Blackbirds. There were 40 million of them flocking together in Arkansas in 1964.
Special Names for Flocks of Birds
Some bird species get a special name for their flocks!
While a “flock of [bird name]” will work for any kind of bird, some birds have unique group names.
A Gaggle of Geese
Geese are noisy creatures, especially when they gather together. Although they are called a “skein” or even a “team” while in flight, a group of geese on the ground is called a gaggle.
A Murder of Crows
This may be the most famous bird group name: a murder of crows.
There is a pretty interesting story behind this name. According to PBS: “Many view the appearance of crows as an omen of death because ravens and crows are scavengers and are generally associated with dead bodies, battlefields, and cemeteries, and they’re thought to circle in large numbers above sites where animals or people are expected to soon die.”
A Kettle of Turkey Vultures or Other Birds of Prey
Do you ever see a group of turkey vultures, circling high in the sky? When I was a kid, I loved floating in the pool, as still as I could, until the vultures came circling! (Weird? Maybe!)
In flight, a group of turkey vultures – or any other birds of prey – is called a kettle. This is because some groups will look like water boiling in a kettle.
When you see a group of vultures in a tree or perched on fence posts, they are called a committee. As they pick over the carcass of a dead animal, they are called a wake.
A Charm of Finches
A group of finches may be called a charm or a trembling. Charm comes from the Old English word c’irm, which is what they sound like – not how they behave.
Although they may be charming for birders to spot, finches are not very charming to one another!
An Unkindness of Ravens
There are a few theories about why ravens – which are among the smartest birds on earth – are called an “unkindness.”
It may be because they were thought to be unkind to their own young, or perhaps because of their reputation of being tricky.
An Affliction of Starlings
Starlings amass huge numbers in their flocks, and it can definitely be a problem! Starlings will swarm a farm and consume massive amounts of fruit or grain, causing a reduction in the farm’s productivity.
Additionally, they are prone to spreading diseases. I’ve had to figure out how to deter starlings that were getting into my chickens’ feed because of the amount of potentially disease-spreading waste they had left behind.
Starlings may be pretty with their black sheen and their brown speckles, but they are one of the only birds that is NOT protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, mostly because they are a nuisance.
Is it in any wonder, then, that a group of starlings is called an affliction? Starlings can also be called a chattering (which makes sense because of the racket they cause), a murmuration, a constellation, or even a scourge!
Other Fun Group Names
Some of the other fun group names for birds include:
- A chain of bobolinks
- A chatter of budgies
- A college, conclave, radiance, or Vatican of cardinals
- A mewing of catbirds
- A banditry of chickadees
- A peep of chickens
- A flight, gulp, sunning, or swim of cormorants
- A cover of coots
- A corral or herd of cowbirds
- A herd or dance of cranes
- A bevy, cote, flight, or dule of doves
- A raft, team, paddling, or badling of ducks
- A mob of emus
- A flamboyance of flamingos
- A covey, pack, or bevy of quail
- A gross of grosbeaks
- A colony, squabble, flotilla, scavenging, or gullery of gulls
- A siege, sedge, or scattering of herons
- A charm, glittering, tune, shimmer, bouquet, or hover of hummingbirds
- A band, party, scold, or cast of jays
- A coronation, court, or tyranny of kingbirds
- A concentration, realm, clique, or rattle of kingfishers
- A deceit of lapwings
- A bevy, ascension, exaltation, or happiness of larks
- An asylum, water dance, or cry of loons
- A tiding of magpies
- A sword or flush of mallards
- A watch of nightingales
- A parliament, wisdom, bazaar, glaring, or study of owls
- A mural or palette of painted buntings
- A pandemonium, prattle, or company of parrots
- A covey of partridges
- A party or ostentation of peafowl
- A squadron, scoop, or pod of pelicans
- A colony, creche, waddle, or huddle of penguins
- A nye, bevy, covey, or bouquet of pheasants
- A congregation of plovers
- A marathon or race of roadrunner
- A slurp of sapsuckers
- A scoop of skimmers
- A walk or wisp of snipe
- A host, quarrel, flutter, crew or knot of sparrows
- A mustering of storks
- A gulp or flight of swallows
- A wedge, ballet, whiteness, regatta, or lamentation of swans
- A spring of teals
- A rafter, gang, posse, or gobble of wild turkeys
- A confusion, fall, or wrench of warblers
- A fall of woodcocks
- A descent or drumming of woodpeckers
- A herd or chime of wrens
Next time you see a large group of birds, take a moment to look up what they’re called. You might just find some really fun, clever options for how to refer to them.