Macquarie Dictionary


Collective nouns for animals

A number of medieval sources provided lists of collective nouns for various animals and birds, purportedly as technical hunting terms, although clearly fanciful in origin. Whether these terms were ever actually used by hunters is doubtful, but a few have in the end become a part of the standard English vocabulary, and scholars from the 19th century onwards have been diligent in reproducing these medieval lists, with greater and less accuracy, so that many of these terms are today still known as the ‘proper’ terms for a group of some stated animal or bird, even though their use outside this limited domain is virtually non-existent.

In imitation of these medieval terms many new terms of a similar nature have been coined in recent times, such as a crash of rhinoceroses. It may be noted that despite the existence of these collective nouns, ordinarily a group of plovers, starlings or owls will most likely be denoted, in both spoken and written English, by the term flock and not congregation, murmuration or parliament. Actual evidence of these ‘proper’ terms in genuine use is either sketchy or non-existent. The list below includes many common standard English terms, such as a pod of whales and a pack of dogs, as well as more arcane terms such as a clowder of cats and a descension of woodpeckers.

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apes – shrewdness

badgers – cete

bats – colony

bears – sloth (or sleuth)

bees – bike; drift; hive; swarm

birds – colony (roosting in large numbers); dissimulation (small birds); drift (in flight); flight (in flight); flock; parcel; rush (migrating)

boars – singular

bottle-nosed whales – grind

buffalo – gang; herd

butterflies – flight; wing

cats – clowder

cattle – drift; drove (when being driven); herd; mob

chicks – cletch; clutch; brood; peep

choughs – clattering

colts – rag; rake

coots – covert

crows – murder

cubs – litter

curs – cowardness

deer – brace (two); leash (three)

dogs – brace (two); leash (three); pack

dolphins – herd; pod; school

donkeys – herd; pace

doves – dole (or dule)

ducks – paddling (on water); raft (on water)

dunlins – fling (in flight)

elephants – herd

elk – gang

falcons – cast (a pair released after game)

ferrets – business

finches – charm; chirm

fish – run (moving upstream for spawning); school; shoal

foxes – earth; leash (three); skulk

fowl – plump; skein (in flight); trip

frogs – knot

fur seals – harem (belonging to one male)

geese – gaggle; skein (in flight); wedge (in V formation in flight)

giraffes – herd

gnats – cloud

goats – flocktrip

goldfinches – charm

gorillas – band

grouse – brace (two); covey; pack

hares – down; huske; leash (three)

hawks – cast (a pair released after game); kettle (riding a thermal); leash (three)

herons – siege (or sedge, or sege)

horses – harras; span (a team of two); string

hounds – brace (two); cry; kennel; leash (three); mute; sute

insects (flying) – cloud; swarm

jellyfish – smack

kangaroos – flock; mob; troop

kittens – kindle

lapwings – desert

larks – bevy; exaltation; exalting

leopards – leap

lions – pride

magpies – tidings

mallards – sord; sute

martens – richesse

moles – labour

monkeys – troop

mules – barren; span (a team of two); string

nightingales – watch

owls – parliament

oxen – yoke (two yoked together)

partridges – covey

peacocks – muster; ostentation

pheasants – bevy; bouquet (when flushed); nye

pigeons – kit

plovers – congregations; wing

ponies – string

porpoises – herd; pod; school

pups – litter

quails – bevy

rabbits – berry

racehorses – string

ravens – unkindness

rhinoceroses – crash

roes – bevy

rooks – building; parliament

ruffs – hill

seals – plump; spring

sheep – flock; fold; mob; wing

sheldrake – dropping

snipe – walk; wisp

sparrows – host

squirrels – dray (a nest)

starlings – murmuration

swans – wedge (in V formation in flight)

swine – drift; sounder (wild); trip (tame)

teal – spring; string

toads – knot

trout – hover

turkeys – rafter

vipers – nest

waterfowl – bunch; knob (less than 30); raft (on water)

whales – gam; herd; plump; pod

wolves – pack; rout

woodcocks – fall

woodpeckers – descension