'A murder of crows', 'a charm of goldfinches', 'an ostentation of peacocks': collective nouns for British birds have existed since at least the mid fifteenth century. They are thought to originate in texts about hunting, but have since evolved into evocative, witty and literary expressions, each striving to capture the very essence of the animal they describe. Some are portentous - 'a conspiracy of ravens' perfectly evokes this sinister bird - others convey sound, such as 'a murmuration of starlings' or 'a chattering of choughs'. Yet more reflect with a flourish the beauty of the bird itself: what could be more celebratory than 'a crown of kingfishers', or 'an exaltation of larks'? The best of these imaginative expressions are collected here, illustrated with charming woodcuts by Thomas Bewick, the renowned naturalist engraver of the eighteenth century.