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’.

Image © Luc Viatour |

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).

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-.

Wikipedia (2): The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., (12 November 2013). Web. Date accessed (16 December 2013). Search term ‘Eurasian Jay-.

Word Central (1): Merriam-Webster’s Electronic Dictionary. 2013. Web. Date accessed (16 December 2013). Serarch term ‘Jabber”.

Word Central (2): 2009. Date accessed (16 December 2013). Search term ‘Jay-.


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