The first robin that shows up in the shank of winter is always a welcome visitor — testifying, as it does, that the sweeter season is on its way.
But what I witnessed on our lawn one frigid daybreak a week or two ago wasn’t a single brave messenger. It was 20 or 30 of them — rushing about, shouldering for space, pecking at the frozen earth.
What does one call a rowdy congregation like that? A gang? A mob?
Curious to know, I went to a place I seldom visit — the Yahoo website — and typed in my question. The reply was immediate — and somewhat surprising.
It turns out there’s a list of terms used to describe groups of animals of the same species. Not scientific nomenclature. Just everyday language.
Some of the labels are familiar: A flock of geese, for example. A parliament (or a congress) of crows. The list is quite long. And several of the entries are wonderfully fanciful.
A shrewdness of apes.
A rabble of butterflies.
A clutter (or a pounce) of cats.
A quiver of cobras.
I read on down the list and voila! Sure enough, I came to it.
A worm of robins.
How many birds does it take to constitute a “worm”? And how in heaven’s name did a perfectly respectable and much-loved creature like Robin Redbreast get tagged with such a disgusting moniker?
The answer: It resulted from the bird’s diet.
Earthworms are a robin’s food of preference. And alive and wriggling or old and half rotten, he’ll eat them any way he finds them. It’s what that worm of robins was hunting for in my frozen yard.
If the practice now is to assign names according to what a creature consumes or how it behaves, there occurs to me some labels that could be added to the list.
A futility of legislators, for one. A ruckus of politicians, for another. A thuggery of wife beaters. A feeding frenzy of tycoons.
An epidemic of child killers and thieves. Never mind the names. These particular animals don’t appear on the list.
But by their conduct, we know them all much better than we’d like.
For more of C.W. Gusewelle, go to gusewelle.kansascity.com.