It’s pandemonium among the birds

Dad with Ferdinand the pheasant 

In my Dad’s column from 3rd February 1979, he talks about the proliferation of pheasants among the fields and lanes around the village where we lived, and the fact that the shooting season came to an end on February 1st.

These handsome birds have been known for possessing quite feisty characteristics, such as one that was a self-appointed guardian of the post office in a nearby village. It was called Hector and had been reared from a chick by the postmaster’s son. Unfortunately, Hector took a dislike to some of the customers and would guard the path leading up to the door. He was even known to attack on occasion. Obviously, a vicious guard-pheasant can’t have been very good for business, so at some point, Hector was locked away.

But pheasants can make quite lovely, and peace-loving, pets and can grow very attached to the humans that look after them. In his column Dad mentions one such visitor to our own garden who would wander around our lawns, flower beds and vegetable patches seemingly untroubled by the appearance of any people. This was a good 30 years before young Ferdinand appeared on the scene.

Ferdinand the pheasant was a more recent regular caller and would potter around looking for seeds, insects and leaves to feed upon. My parents, especially my dad (who named him), became rather fond of him, and whenever he appeared Dad would head to the garden with a handful of bird seed which Ferdinand was very grateful to receive.

As I have mentioned before, Mum and Dad were very keen on bird watching and made sure the feathery visitors were all looked after, with plenty of bird boxes and feeders in a number of sites around the garden. It ensured that there was always plenty of avian activity to observe from our living room window.

Like the pheasant, there were other species whose fear of humans lessened once they got used to having them around. The blackbirds and robins were the bravest, and would venture very close if they thought there might be a few crumbs dropped from the table if ever my parents dined al fresco on a warm summer’s day.

One thing that fascinates me is the variety of strange and wonderful words used to describe a group of birds gathered together, be it on the ground or airborne. Dad mentions a collective noun for pheasants that was more commonly used down south, rather than here in the north, and that was a ‘nye’, but I have also found others, such as bevy, bouquet and nide, none of which I had heard before.

There are some words which can be used for all gatherings of birds, such as flock, colony, fleet, parcel or dissimulation. However, there are specific terms for specific species, and the weird and wonderful words chosen often reflect the characteristics of the birds in question.

For example, most of us know that a group of owls is called a ‘parliament’, while several geese together is a ‘gaggle’ and starlings in flight are referred to as a ‘murmuration’.

You might even have heard of a ‘murder’ of crows. But have you heard of a ‘scold’ of jays, or a ‘mischief’ of magpies? Unless you are a committed birder, then I am willing to bet you have not. I wish I could list them all here, as they are just brilliant, but sadly, I am inhibited by space. Some bird species have several terms to themselves, so I have just selected the one which I felt summed them up. I’ve put down my favourites, and congratulate whoever it was who came up with such fantastic descriptions.

You might recall that last week I mentioned the heron’s reputation for raiding garden ponds, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that a group of them is known as a ‘siege’. I’m not sure how my nerves would cope, though, if I came across a ‘pandemonium’ of parrots, a ‘mob’ of emus or a ‘quarrel’ of sparrows. And I’d definitely steer clear of an ‘unkindness’ of ravens, a ‘cauldron’ of hawks and a ‘wake’ of vultures. Perhaps I’d need to seek out a ‘shimmer’ of hummingbirds, a ‘ballet’ of swans or a ‘prayer’ of godwits, to ease my frazzled soul.

I wonder if you have any favourite or unusual words for collections of birds?

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug


This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 1st February and the Gazette & Herald on 30th January 2019

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