Profanetary

(This column was first published in the November 15, 1999 Buffalo News.)

    Last Friday the Buffalo Ornithological Society celebrated its 70th anniversary with a dinner at the Protocol Restaurant in Cheektowaga. Continuing a long-standing tradition at these banquets held every five years, an issue of The Profanetary, a tongue-in-cheek take-off on the society's regular monthly journal, The Prothonotary, was distributed. With the permission of the anonymous editors of that broadsheet, I share two of its articles with you.

    Under the title "Bird Flocks": "There are already odd names for bird groups that appear on that long list of proposed aggregations along with a pride of lions and a pod of whales. Two on that list that come to mind are a murder of crows and a murmuration of starlings. But given those two unusual names, birders have felt challenged to come up with additional references for flocks of the various avian species.

    "Here are some for a few of our local birds: a college of cardinals, a cord of wood ducks, a chain of bobolinks, a dynasty of kinglets, a barrel of woodcocks, an awning of canvasbacks, an earful of waxwings, a grain of sanderlings, a harassment of harriers, a wake of mourning doves, a treasury of goldfinches, a tyranny of kingbirds, a cone of pine warblers, a Gallup of redpolls, a foreclosure of bank swallows, a guttering of flickers, a dean of martins, a show of peeps, a pint of bitterns, an RSVP (or perhaps SVP) of egrets, a graveyard of shovelers, a little house of prairie warblers, a mootor of scoters, a curmudgeon of coots, for golfers an iron of chipping sparrows, a realm of kingfishers, a complaint of grouse, a reading of palm warblers, and (our favorite) a dribble of pewee.

    "Going somewhat farther afield we have: a gallon of petrels, an embarrassment of red-faced cormorants, a moustache of whiskered terns, a strop of razorbills, a fanfare of trumpeter swans, a gang of masked ducks, a cotillion of elegant terns, a bowl of spoonbills, a family of partridges, an audience of clapper rails, a collar of ruffs, a prayer of godwits, a range of mountain plovers, a bunch of bananaquits, a guffaw of laughing gulls, a blush of scarlet ibis, an exile of Bonaparte's gulls, an easel of painted buntings, a stampede of cattle egrets, a Gordion of knots, a shish kebab of skuas, a ladle of dippers and an orphanage of anis.

    "As one contributor to the list concluded: 'I'm going to retire now -- to an asylum of cuckoos.'"

    Another article is titled "Ornithological Bias": "The American Ornithologists Union is currently considering renaming the oldsquaw, the duck well known for the almost constant gossiping calls exchanged by these birds when they gather in winter flocks on our rivers and lakes. The proposed change is to long-tailed duck, the name already assigned this species in Europe. The reason for the change is, however, not simply to bring us into line with the Old Country: in this single current species name, oldsquaw, we have what has been deemed insensitivity to sex, race and age, something of a record for a single word.

    "But the proposed change has not met with universal approval. One critic has suggested some additional species that might cause disquiet among various minorities: the common loon which offends those in psychological therapy; the bald eagle, those with thinning hair; the hermit thrush, those who have chosen to live alone; the grosbeak, those with large noses; the coot, our elderly; and the vulture, our lawyers. The sapsucker and the booby he claims need no characterization."

    We await -- with some trepidation -- the next issue of this unusual journal.-- Gerry Rising