Everyone knows that a bunch of geese is a “gaggle.” Lots of us even know that a group of crows is a “murder.” But did you know that when two or more elk get together they become a “gang”? Or that several squirrels in one place can correctly be called a “dray” or a “scurry”?
I know all this and much more, thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey, which has collected centuries of accumulated lore about the nomenclature of animal multiples.
Some names are predictable. No one would be surprised to hear about a “wake” of buzzards, a “tower” of giraffes or a “bloat” of hippopotamuses. A “prickle” of porcupines requires no stretch of the imagination. Neither do a “cackle” of hyenas, a “romp” of otters or a “leap” of leopards. But who came up with a “business” of ferrets, a “harras” of horses and a “barren” of mules?
Have you ever wondered where the word “passel” comes from? Turns out it describes a group of pigs, as do the names “drift,” “drove,” “sounder” and “team.” Oddly, “sty” does not appear on the list of approved plural porker appellations.
You might expect ravens to be the same as crows, but apparently they are much less ruthless than their cousins. When ravens gather, they merely form an “unkindness.” The USGS doesn't say so, but I suspect that multiple magpies constitute nothing more than an "inconvenience."
My personal favorites include a “charm” of finches, an “exultation” of larks, a “parliament” of owls, an “ostentation” of peacocks, a “spring” of teal, a “rafter” of turkeys and a “murmuration” of starlings.
Top honors, in my book, must go to a “crash” of rhinoceroses. Whoever came up with that one had his thinking cap on.
Check out these and other animal aggregations at npwrc.usgs.gov/about/faqs/animals/names.htm.