Prior to the invention of the radio and the television, to say nothing of the Internet and the now seemingly ubiquitous and ironically named “smart phone,” a long day’s work was often capped with participation in one or more of a host of entertainments – primarily music or games – enjoyed with family or friends. Of the latter of these categories, the word games have long appealed most to me, and among those the one I have always found particularly to my liking is that of creating clever collective names for groups of people, creatures, or objects.

Sometimes called “terms of venery” when pertaining to animals – from their original use among hunters (venari being the Latin word for hunting, particularly when involving a chase), the mundane use of such collective nouns for referring to game animals was expanded into a game in which participants were given most any noun and challenged to create a clever collective name for such drawing upon some characteristic (real or imagined) of the subject in question. Thus from the ordinary “a flock of birds,” such now common collectives as “a murder of crows,” “a parliament of owls,” and “an exaltation of larks” have sprung.

Thus when perusing a freshly printed copy of the new Crossley ID Guide to Raptors, the digitally crafted photo montage plates for each species, incorporating as they do sometimes dozens of individual birds, I began to muse upon just what each such species group might be properly – or more correctly, playfully – be called. For while everyone is familiar with such commonplace general collectives as a kettle of hawks and a colony of vultures, just what should one call a grouping of White-tailed Kites, for example?

Therefor I made a list of all the species depicted in the new guide and began assigning them each, as the inspiration struck me, a name I thought best suited to some trait, behavior, aspect of life history, or even a play upon the species binomial or common name itself. My completed list is submitted here for the edification and amusement of all, and an invitation to add your own ideas is heartily given.

  • A compactness of American Kestrels
  • A heaviness of Aplomado Falcons
  • A salute of Bald Eagles (… in the United States at least)
  • A yonder of Black Vultures
  • A gathering of Broad-winged Hawks
  • A rarity of California Condors
  • A darkness of Common Black-Hawks
  • A barrel of Cooper’s Hawks
  • An alliteration of Crested Caracaras
  • An oxidation of Ferruginous Hawks
  • A dawning of Golden Eagles
  • An overcast of Gray Hawks
  • A drift of Gyrfalcons
  • A pack of Harris’s Hawks
  • A captaincy of Hook-billed Kites
  • A conjuration of Merlins
  • A river of Mississippi Kites
  • A gander of Northern Goshawks
  • A survey of Northern Harriers
  • A piscation of Ospreys
  • An astonishment of Peregrine Falcons
  • A lonesomeness of Prairie Falcons
  • An epaulette of Red-shouldered Hawks
  • A ubiquity of Red-tailed Hawks
  • A variation of Rough-legged Hawks
  • A guard of Sharp-shinned Hawks
  • An abbreviation of Short-tailed Hawks
  • An escargot of Snail Kites
  • A congregation of Swainson’s Hawks
  • A forking of Swallow-tailed Kites
  • A suspicion of Turkey Vultures
  • A discontinuousness of White-tailed Hawks
  • A hovering of White-tailed Kites
  • A boundary of Zone-tailed Hawks

This article has been part of the Princeton University Press online tour for The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. Many thanks to Princeton University Press’ own blog for keeping the tour so well organized, to The Fat Finch blog and The Flying Mullet for handing the tour off to The Well-read Naturalist and the day’s co-host Birds from Behind, to the Nemesis Bird and Birding Etc. for hosting the following day’s tour, and to all those site publishers participating in the tour as a whole.