Spring has sprung in the District, which means it’s the ideal time to visit one of our favorite haunts — Constitution Gardens.
Constitution Gardens is a great spot to visit any time of year, but right now it is just jumping with life, including the waterfowl in and around the pond.
Let’s start with the adorable ducklings. There are a great many ducklings in the Gardens right now, which got us thinking about collective nouns. There is a fascinating variety of different names for duck groups, depending on where they are and what they are doing. A group of ducks on the water are called a paddling, or a raft if they are floating together. If they are diving in the air together, they are called a dopping and if they are just flying, they are called a lot. Curiously, there does not seem to be a collective noun for ducks on land, but ducklings on land are called a brood.
However you refer to them, ducklings are especially cute when reflected in the water on the pond.
But, there are more than mallards hanging about. If you’re lucky, you might also spot a ring-necked duck or two.
Not to be outdone are the goslings. A group of geese on land or in the water are called a gaggle or a flock. But, when you see them in the sky, they’re a skein, a team, or a wedge. We weren’t able to find the name for a group of goslings, so we’ll just call them delightful.
They say that if something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. But, while American coots may appear duck-like from a distance, they are definitely their own birds. For one thing, coots don’t have webbed feet. Instead, their feet have long toes. Still, they manage to swim just fine. A group of coots are frequently referred to as a cover, though we’ve also seen covert, fleet, raft, or commotion.
You may also find cormorants at Constitution Gardens Pond, double-crested cormorants to be specific (there are around forty different species of cormorant around the world). Groups of cormorants can be referred to as a flight, a gulp, a sunning, or a swim. Though we weren’t able to confirm it, it seems likely that these different names are utilized depending on what the birds are doing.
This spring we’ve also seen a couple other elegant water birds with long beaks, a spotted sandpiper and a Wilson’s snipe. A group of sandpipers is sometimes referred to as a bind, a fling, a hill, a time-step, and (best for last!) a contradiction.
A group of snipes is called a wisp, but the one we saw was traveling solo.
Rounding out our list of waterfowl is the very distinctive looking Northern shoveler, with its shovel-like bill. Shovelers are yet another type of duck.
When you visit the gardens, your eye may immediately be drawn to the pond and the little island at its northern edge, but bird lovers should also scan the trees surrounding the pond for other feathered friends. Red-winged blackbirds have a very distinctive call and the males have hard-to-miss red and yellow shoulders. There are several collective nouns for all blackbird species, including cloud, cluster, and merl, though they are frequently seen on their own.
There are robins, including early birds with their worms and some who seem to sport mohawks. We have seen groups of robins called a variety of terms, including a blush, a bobbin, a breast, a carol, a riot, a rouge, a ruby, and — especially in the U.S. — a worm.
Left and top right ©Angela N. Lower right ©Victoria Pickering.
Next up are blue jays. Groups of jays are sometimes called a band, cast, party, or scold.
Crows are common in the Gardens. Groups are sometimes called a cauldron, caucus, congress, cowardice, horde, hover, mob, murder, muster, parcel, or storytelling. This one is a fish crow.
Let’s end with that most common and most sociable of birds, the sparrow. Groups go by the term crew, flutter, host, meinie, quarrel, tribe, or ubiquity — the last seeming the most appropriate around here, as they are absolutely everywhere. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in the 1850s, house sparrows like this one were introduced into Brooklyn, N.Y. and had spread to the Rockies by 1900.
However you choose to feather your nest, Constitution Gardens is the place to be in the spring.