One of my favourite books is Of A Feather by Colin See-Paynton. It is an illustrated lexicon of avian collective nouns. For each of the birds described there is a description of the bird and some context behind the noun and there is a woodcut illustration of the birds together. So there is a Covert of Coots and a Parliament of Owls, an Exaltation of Larks and, one of my favourites, a Loomery of Guillemots.
I have had the book out this evening to see if there is a collective noun for Robins. There were four of them this morning in the branches of the apple tree immediately outside the kitchen. They were three to start with and they were then joined by a fourth. The fourth pushed out his chest and flicked his wings. They were only there for a moment and then they were off.
Colin See-Paynton had the answer and the word is an irascibility of Robins. There is a full page picture that could almost be the four that were there this morning with the fellow that I saw puffing his chest at the bottom.
Robins are notoriously aggressive when it comes to protecting their patch of garden and will happily fight off any rival trying to muscle in on their territory. I assume that what I saw was an attempt by some younger birds to to see if they could oust the resident cock Robin or perhaps a brief go at flirtation with my male trying to impress a group of females.
As Colin See-Paynton says “Irascibility, therefore, cannot be regarded as a true collective noun, being derived from and referring to a part of a Robin’s character that is generally overlooked.”