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I believe this expression comes from the german word gestalt: below are several deveral definitions: 


Gestalt is a German word referring to the concept where an entity's properties cannot be discovered from the total properties of its parts. The more general English equivalents are synergy, holism, and variations on the phrase the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

a configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that it cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts 

A physical, biological, psychological, or symbolic configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.

It is the over all impression the bird leaves on the observer when he puts it all together: i.e. the behavior, habitat, vocalization, color,wing beat etc.

Mary Anne Auer
Richmond Heights

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