A gaggle of geese. A pride of lions. A herd of cattle. A pack of wolves. A school of fish. A hive of bees. A flock of birds. A flock of _sheep_. And one of my favorites, probably because it’s so different, so unique, and so terribly appropriate – a murder of crows.

It’s fascinating how some of these grouping words can be applied to such different types of animals. A ‘flock’ being used to refer to creatures of both air and land. But I think a ‘murder’ being used to group a bunch of crows together, rather than ‘flock’, may well be one of the most intriguing mechanics to me. There’s quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding the origin of the phrase, but it seems that _a murder of crows_ originated around AD 1450 in the form of _a mursher of crows_ that evolved over time into its current form. Chances are good, though, that _murder_ is actually a misinterpretation, since no one seems to know what _mursher_ means and have never seen it appear in any of the old literature to refer to murder.

A small fable surrounding crows also seems to contribute to their grouping name. Supposedly, crows occasionally form tribunals against one of their brethren and upon reaching consensus, kill the wayward crow. Crows have also been known to kill a sick crow that either wanders into the territory of another murder or is ostracized. The first of these explanations is apparently patently false, while the second is a behavior that is not necessarily unique to crows but to many different animal groups.

Doing a bit of research on the etymology of this phrase turned up some more interesting grouping names for birds:

* a parliament of rooks
* an unkindness of ravens
* a murmuration of starlings

There’s actually a whole listed on “this page”: for the Baltimore Bird Club. Some of them make a lot of sense when defining the behaviors of specific bird groups. Some you just have to wonder about.

6 thoughts on “Murder”

  1. Some of the names are fabulously atmospheric. It is quite possible to see why a murder of crows or an unkindness of ravens has proven so popular with crime writers looking for titles too.

  2. I always liked “A parliament of owls” though I thought it referred to owls alone, apparently it can be used for any group of birds. Interestingly enough, in a couple of books I have read, they authors decided to use parliament for dragons as well.

  3. I noticed that a parliament of rooks never even showed up in that list. I pulled it off a different site I looked at, though. It’s kind of interesting to see how different kinds of birds have gotten classified when there’s a group of ’em hanging out together.

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