We are seeing flotillas of American coots called rafts this time of year, and also kettles of hawks high overhead. Braces of ducks, too.

When we happen to see bunches of birds of various species — especially now during migrations — we sometimes are uncertain about whether to call them flocks or bands or something else. Flock in most cases is fine, but it's also fun to be more imaginative.

Collective nouns are words that identify a collection of individuals. It's not, "Look at the 119 geese!" But rather a simple: "Look at the flock!" In researching the correct group name for the Canada geese I see daily in the Twin Cities, I found that flock is correct, but only if the geese are standing around or grazing on grasses. If the group is flying, it becomes a skein; if the group is on water, it's a gaggle.

I have found several lists that include group names for some types of birds, as well as for other animals. The correct terms may seem archaic, but they are certainly descriptive.

A few accepted bird and other animal group names:

A charm of hummingbirds or goldfinches; a staring of owls; a covey of quail; a chattering of starlings; and a party or band of jays.

There also is a wedge of swans; a raft of ducks (when in large close groups on open water appearing as a solid body); a host of sparrows; a flight of swallows; an exaltation of larks; a rabble of butterflies; a band of coyotes; and a cloud of gnats.

Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.