My word, that’s a lot of animals

Published 12:54 am Saturday, November 1, 2008

I’ve always been fascinated by words that are used to describe a bunch of birds or animals. For example, if you see a bunch of birds or sheep, you’d more than likely describe them as a flock of birds or sheep.

Although I have seen, and even written about terms for groups or bunches, I stumbled upon some I had never encountered before. Here’s one: a bale of turtles. I wondered where that came from. My dictionary defines bale as a large bundle (made ready for storage or shipment.) Well, okay, that made a little sense to me. If you see some turtles bunched together, maybe they do look like a big bale.

Then you’ve perhaps heard the description of a bunch of geese as a gaggle of geese. The first time I that, I laughed. I still think it’s funny. For geese that are soaring through the air, you can refer to them as a skein of geese.

How about a charm of finches? The dictionary left me cold on this one, too. But those birds do have a certain charm as they put their thick bills to work on a sunflower seed.

Clowder of cats fits. The dictionary tells me that the word clowder means exactly that, a group of cats.

Another funny term is a confusion of guinea fowls. Ever been around a bunch of guineas? Are they disorderly and act confused? Maybe the description fits. I found no connection to groups of them under the word confusion in the dictionaries I searched.

The word covey, of course, is familiar when associated with partridges, pheasants, or quail.

When it comes to larks, if you see a bunch of them soaring overhead, it’s proper to say, “Look at that exaltation of larks” even though I suspect most people might give you a funny look if you did.

If you’re a sea-faring person or read a lot of books about sailors and sea-going vessels, maybe you have come across the expression, a gam of whales. I can’t recall that I have and I’ve read numerous books about sea voyages. I struck out with my dictionary on an explanation for that usage. If that just sounds too strange, opt for another term for a group of whales. Say a pod of whales. That word applies to a bunch of seals, too.

Everybody is familiar with a hive of bees, but, skipping to cold-blooded creatures, what about a knot of toads? Knot can mean a cluster of people or things, so that fits, but it was news to me.

If you refer to the king of the beasts, lions, or those birds with a beautiful wing spread, peacocks, you can describe a group of them as a pride of lions or a pride of peacocks.

Fox hunters probably are familiar with a skulk of foxes, and fishermen might be familiar with a shoal of bass, but I doubt most people know that a group of nocturnal European birds that sing melodiously are known as a watch of nightingales.