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What say ye, countrymen, to a Jabber of Jays?

Greene - Jay - 1 800px-Garrulus_glandarius_1_Luc_ViatourThe collective noun for jays is currently a ‘band’, but I think this should be changed to a ‘jabber’.

Robert Joseph Greene

Image © Luc Viatour | www.Lucnix.be

The jay family comprises of between 35-40 (Wikipedia 1) species situated primarily in Europe and North America. Jays are in the crow family and are an iconic northern species being welcome, colourful (in plumage and in character) visitors to gardens and yards where they occur. They are loud, sometimes bothersome birds, with many species having distinctive chattering, or jabbering, calls which have inspired poems and stories and have even been vocalized in music.

The Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius was the original 'jay' (Wikipedia 2), but it had no byname or classification until the 18th century when Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus assigned jays (and many other species) as a particular grouping (Utah's Crow & Company).

Birds have a collective noun based on a regionalised characteristic or association, e.g. a charm of goldfinches or a murder of crows. For jay, the collective noun is a 'band'. I think a more appropriate term would be a 'jabber', after their chattering, jabbering calls.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to 'jabber' means to talk rapidly, or indistinctly, or unintelligibly (Word Central 1). But is it fair to call them 'jabbers'? And if we do call them 'jabbers', is it also fair to call their grouping a 'jabber of jays'? And who is responsible for the final say?

When I inquired on how to change the collective noun for jays, Merriam-Webster outlined that there are two approaches to which a 'jabber of jays' would be an officially accepted term. Firstly, by common usage or secondly, if adopted by the scientific community.

Being an author, I appealed to the artistic community for their assistance and the response was amazing. Fellow author Suzanne Collins used 'jabberjays- in her successful book trilogy The Hunger Games (2008). More directly to my public appeal, 'jabber of jays' was written into the script of the TV series Game of Thrones.

When I presented my findings to Merriam-Webster, I was told that this was not enough and that I would need to appeal to the scientific community for further expansion and usage of a 'jabber of jays'.

Addressing ornithologists is more challenging. Most of the ornithologists I have approached feel that to label jays with the word 'jabber' as 'indistinct' or 'unintelligible' would not be acceptable. This is a fair analysis because jays are gregarious, social birds, and like other birds have specific reasons for being noisy - such as calling to alert others to the presence of a predator, or to attract a mate.

Between the 10th and 13th Centuries, the jay was referred to in Old English as the 'Pica' (Whitham), however, 'jay' was first used in the 14th Century thus it is a Middle-English (Anglo-French) term of Latin origin (gaius) (Word Central 2) that has been turned into an American slang word meaning a person who chatters impertinently.

So, 'jabber' would be an extension of what the jays' origins have naturally come to be. Furthermore, Merriam-Webster places words in order of importance in their definition and the first word used in the dictionary for the verb 'to jabber' is 'to talk rapidly' which is clearly what jays are doing.

Merriam-Webster has clearly indicated that it is up to the ornithological community and not the literary world to decide on the fate of a 'jabber of jays'.

I ask the ornithological community to adopt the collective noun for jays as a 'jabber'.


Collins, Suzanne. 2008. The Hunger Games. Scholastic. ISBN 0-439-02348-3.

Utah's Crow & Company: Nature's Call Newsletter. Spring/Summer 2001. Web. Date accessed (16 December 2013). https://wildlife.utah.gov/education/newsletters/01springnc.pdf

Whitman, Charles H. 1898. The Birds of Old English New Haven. CT Urbana

Wikipedia (1): The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., (12 November 2013). Date accessed (16 December 2013). Search term 'Jay Bird-. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay

Wikipedia (2): The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., (12 November 2013). Web. Date accessed (16 December 2013). Search term 'Eurasian Jay-. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurasian_Jay

Word Central (1): Merriam-Webster’s Electronic Dictionary. 2013. Web. Date accessed (16 December 2013). Serarch term 'Jabber”. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jabber

Word Central (2): thefreedictionary.com. 2009. Date accessed (16 December 2013). Search term 'Jay-. https://www.thefreedictionary.com/Jay+(bird)


About the author

Robert Joseph Greene is listed in Wikipedia as Canada's only male Romantic writer. He is best known for The Gay Icon Classics of the World. He has embarked upon a global effort to make a 'jabber of jays' the official collective noun for jays.

Blog posts express the views of the individual author(s) and not those of the BOU.


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3 comments on “What say ye, countrymen, to a Jabber of Jays?

  1. Avatar Debbie says:

    The UK newspaper The Independent ran a competition on collective nouns back in 2007. One of the winners was a ‘jabber of journalists’.


  2. Avatar Ray Reedman says:

    An interesting argument, but can you invent tradition? If you want a literary precedent, you could do worse than consider how Mary Webb’s use of a “murmuration of starlings” (in “Precious Bane”)starts as a description of the noise of waking birds and, by cultural osmosis, has now become the collective name for a swirling mass of pre-roost birds – a quite different beast altogether, and a term which is now used by amateurs and professionals alike. I doubt that Mary Webb would have envisaged that happening.

  3. Avatar Glyn Young says:

    While jays often screech the place out, they can also come up with some astonishing calls and melodious song. Vocally they are exceptional and spring woods can be filled with the weirdest calls that regularly throw you out. I think a collective noun should reflect on just what complex little characters they really are. The noun for choughs is a chattering and this well highlights what constant gossips they are. Perhaps a random of jays to highlight that you never quite know what they’ll say or do!

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