Collective nouns or terms of venery are whimsical ways to describe groups of animals, from a bellowing of bullfinches to a scurry of chipmunks, a flamboyance of flamingos, and a parliament of owls. The terms of venery we assign to groups of animals are colorful and intriguing linguistic phrases that require wit to create and are fun to use.
Murder of crows
The genus Corvus is known by the common name crow. Corvids refer to a group of birds that includes ravens, magpies, crows, and jays. The Corvidae family comprises around 40 species primarily viewed as pests due to their reputation for preying on endangered songbirds and destroying crops.
The term “murder of crows” refers to when crows or animals were given vivid and poetic names. The origin of this phrase has various distinct explanations, most of which are based on old folk tales and superstitions.
Why are crows linked to murder?
Due to their omnivorous and scavenging nature, crows were often seen hanging around battlefields, gallows, and hospitals waiting for their opportunity to source carrion. But hanging around these dark, often death-associated places earned crows a reputation for being sinister, with their appearance seen as an omen of death by many.
Old folk tales abound
One superstition was that crows form parliaments to assess whether a group member has engaged in any wrongdoing and decide its capital fate. If they deem their fellow crow guilty, they will all gang up to murder and eat their flock member.
The only shred of reality is that crows will occasionally murder weak or injured crows who infringe on their area during battles; thus, this myth has some truth. However, there is no evidence that crows or other birds habitually execute members of their species.
When a crow dies, other flock members have often been witnessed gathering together and attending a kind of funeral. The crows don’t usually touch the body out of fear. It’s possible they could be assessing a dead bird friend to learn about potential threats and dangers.
Terms of venery
Terms of venery relate to specific groups of animals and stem from an aristocratic hunting tradition in 15th century Britain.
For the elite, hunting was more than just a pleasurable activity or a means of obtaining sustenance; it was a significant indicator of nobility and privilege. All aspects of the hunt, including the prey, their bodies, and the pursuit, were described in different ways.
Commoners join in to expand the idea of venery
At the same time, the English language was undergoing a vast expansion, and literate people outside of the nobility began to adopt the practice of collectively naming hunting animals.
Over the next century, the practice grew in popularity, giving rise to hundreds of new names for veneration, such as an ostentation of peacocks, a parcel of hogs, and a charm of finches. Names that invoke feelings within us and allow us to picture the creatures symbolically.
How did venery become so popular?
These new descriptions required a lot of wit and inventiveness, as well as a variety of semantic methods, including onomatopoeias (a gaggle of geese), attributes (a tower of giraffes), and look (a parliament of owls).
During the 1400s, it was expected that gentlemen would remember each of these collective nouns. And while you may be breathing a sigh of relief that it’s no longer the case, there is still as much of a purpose for venery now as there was then.
History provided us with an array of colorful and eclectic names that were perpetuated because of their link to the aristocracy.
The Egerton manuscript and the book of St. Albans, both from the mid-1400s, list several examples still in use today, such as a charm of goldfinches, a pride of lions, and, of course, a murder of crows.
Scientists may refer to animals simply as groups, but venery allows us to show our genuine appreciation of nature, the animal kingdom, and the English language.
Were other collective nouns used to describe crows?
Murders weren’t the only way to describe crows; hunters used many terms of venery, including a cauldron, a congress, storytelling, a parliament, a clan, a murmuration, a cowardice, and a cawlection.
And the fun of creating collective names continues today, will venerations such as a wunch of bankers or a whimsy of collective nouns.
What do you call a group of two crows?
Because crows naturally assemble in large numbers, a gathering of only a few of them would not ordinarily be considered a murder; and they are more likely to congregate in larger crowds. A murder of crows is the poetic metaphor for when a vast group, or flock, of a single species of birds is gathered.
Many of the group names created across the animal world were so-called because of false beliefs and folk tales. These ideas were passed around and perpetuated, leading people to create links that didn’t exist. For example, an unkindness of ravens likely stems from the belief that parents often forced their young crows from the nest before they were ready.
Folk tales of ravens as the bringers of death and doom have proven unfair in a species that is fiercely protective of its habitat while displaying empathy. An investigation of these birds led to the discovery that this is one of the rare species to demonstrate this human-like behavior.
Similarly, though crows hold the reputation of being a nuisance, these birds play a crucial role in their surrounding ecosystems. Crows could help minimize climate change by tending to corpses that would otherwise be left to rot and create infectious diseases; crows’ clean up’ the mess and eliminate an array of potential threats.
Birds plotting murder?
What about crow storytelling? Crows prefer to congregate in huge crowds and are recognized for their loud ‘caw.’ Perhaps someone noticed this and realized they weren’t plotting a murder as much as they were telling each other stories.
Members of the Corvidae family can mimic sounds and solve complex problems with the use of tools; they can also remember faces for several years. In recent years, scientists have discovered crows’ mischievous nature and a high level of intelligence. What was previously viewed as macabre maybe their playful nature and sense of curiosity.
Talking like the birds
Each call signifies a different message, and their sounds can range from caws to rattles, clicks, and even the mimicked sounds of humans and other animals. And while the crow has become synonymous with its noisy cawing sound, this communication is much more than a game or noise. It is the key to their survival.
Crows are considered songbirds and are amongst the species with the most complex muscles surrounding their voice box.
The Future Of Murders
The term “murder of crows,” like other collective nouns, has outlived its original meaning. Perhaps it’s because of their all-black appearance, their significant role in legend, or the loud sound of a flock of crows, but the name isn’t going away anytime soon.