With all three species of swans currently visiting Minsmere, it seems only right that for part two of our series looking at collective nouns we feature one of our most familiar groups of birds. Mute swans will be familiar to everyone who has ever fed birds on a park lake, but if you want to see our two "wild" swan species, Bewick's and whoopers, then you need to look for them in their favoured haunts during the winter months. A few of each species join us here at Minsmere every year, so let's look at their collective nouns.

Whooper swans

Perhaps the most frequently used term for a group of swans is a herd, especially when they are grazing on wet meadows or sugar beet tops, much like a herd of cattle or sheep.

Did you know that a group of swans is also called a gaggle? This term is much usually associated with geese, with which they also share the term wedge. The latter refers to the V-shape of a flying flock. A bank of swans may also refer to the way they bank into the wind to land, much like an aeroplane coming in to land. 

It may not come a surprise to hear that another collective noun is a whiteness of swans, which perfectly describes their gleaming plumage, especially on a lovely sunny day like today.

Other terms originate from their former popularity as game birds. Bevy, for example, is also used for birds such as quails, doves and larks that were all popular foods in the past. A more obscure term is an eyrar of swans. This was a new word for me, and one that could be useful in Scrabble. It means a brood or nest of swans, and its origins can be dated back to the 16th Century!

Mute swan with cygnets - a eyrar of swans

Which brings me to the final two collective nouns that I've found, both of which presumably relate to the beautiful bugling calls of Bewick's and whooper swans echoing across a winter marsh: a gargle and a lamentation of swans. The latter perfectly captures the rather mournful tone to their calls.

A Bewick's swan calling after chasing a rival from its chosen bit of marsh

I'd love to know which your favourite is. I think mine is a whiteness of swans, though a lamentation is a close second!

Anonymous