August 21 (Monday)

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Birds are among the most popular symbols in the United States and Canada. Every state and Canadian province and territory has an official bird. Some states and the province of Newfoundland have two.

Baltimore oriole

Some state birds started the climb to fame long before the United States even existed. For example, the Baltimore oriole (left) was reportedly discovered by Lord Baltimore in 1629. It became one of his favorites and was adopted as Maryland’s state bird more than three centuries later.

In 1893, the World’s Fair was held in Chicago. States and territories were encouraged to adopt official flowers to represent them at the Fair. Soon, everyone wanted an official flower. In 1908, Illinois adopted the oak as its state tree. Texas chose the pecan for its state tree in 1919. It was only natural that people would start thinking about state birds.

The first official state bird was probably the cardinal, which was adopted by Kentucky in 1926. Actually, Kansans had chosen the western meadowlark in 1925. They just didn’t get around to making it official until 1937.

State Birds Map
The map above indicates the states represented by the cardinal (red background), western meadowlark (yellow) and mockingbird (green). Also highlighted are Ontario and Minnesota (blue background), both represented by the common loon, and Maine, Massachusetts and New Brunswick (orange background), each of which adopted the black-capped chickadee. Red stars indicate the first states to adopt official birds (Kansas and Kentucky) and the first Canadian province to adopt an official bird (Saskatchewan).

Many official flowers had been promoted by territorial and state women’s clubs, which were popular in those days. Women’s clubs were also instrumental in the adoption of many state birds. Mrs. Katherine Tippetts served as national chairman of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs about the time Kentucky adopted the cardinal. She became very active in promoting state birds across the nation.

Audubon Society chapters and other groups also took an interest in adopting state birds in some states. School children were allowed to choose some state birds.

Sharp-tailed grouse

In 1932, Nature Magazine reported that forty-three states and the District of Columbia had already adopted official birds! Alaska and Hawaii already had official birds when they joined the union in 1959. The roster continued to evolve. Some states changed their minds and adopted different species, while others adopted a second official bird.

Canada’s first official bird was the sharp-tailed grouse (above right), chosen by Saskatchewan in 1944. In 1976, Prince Edward Island adopted the blue jay. Today, every Canadian province and territory has an official bird.

State & Provincial Bird Highlights

Most Popular

Cardinal, western meadowlark and mockingbird

Seven states adopted the cardinal (pictured above on the left), the most popular state bird in the eastern United States: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Six states recognize the western meadowlark (center), the most popular state bird in the Great Plains: Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming. It has also been a leading candidate in other states, including Washington.

Five states honor the mockingbird (right), the most popular state bird in the South: Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas.

Other Popular Birds

Black-capped chickadee, robin and willow goldfinch
Left to right: black-capped chickadee, robin and willow goldfinch

• wild turkey (Official game bird of Massachusetts, Alabama, South Carolina & Oklahoma)
• black-capped chickadee (Maine, Massachusetts & New Brunswick)
• American goldfinch (Iowa, New Jersey & Washington)
• robin (Connecticut, Michigan & Wisconsin)
• eastern bluebird (New York & Missouri)
• mountain bluebird (Idaho & Nevada)
• bobwhite quail (Official game bird of Georgia & Tennessee. The bobwhite has also been a leading candidate for state bird in several other states. It even served for a time as the state bird of Oklahoma and Rhode Island.)
• common loon (Minnesota & Ontario)

States and Provinces with Two Official Birds

• Tennessee (mockingbird & bobwhite)
• Alabama (yellowhammer, or common flicker, & turkey)
• Georgia (brown thrasher & bobwhite)
• Mississippi (mockingbird & wood duck)
• South Carolina (Carolina wren & turkey)
• Wisconsin (robin & mourning dove)
• Oklahoma (scissor-tailed flycatcher & turkey)
• Newfoundland (Atlantic puffin & rock ptarmigan)

Non-Songbird Emblems

All state and provincial birds are songbirds, belonging to the order Passeriformes, except for the following:

Game Birds – willow ptarmigan (Alaska), ruffed grouse (Pennsylvania), sharp-tailed grouse (Saskatchewan), California quail, bobwhite (Tennessee & Georgia), turkey (Massachusetts, Alabama, South Carolina & Oklahoma), ring-necked pheasant (South Dakota), Rhode Island Red chicken, and Blue Hen chicken (Delaware)

Turkey, bobwhite and ptarmigan
Left to right: turkey, bobwhite and Alaska’s willow ptarmigan

Waterfowl – wood duck (Mississippi) and Hawaiian goose or nene (though it actually lives on land)

Other Water Birds – common loon (Minnesota & Ontario), brown pelican (Louisiana), and Atlantic puffin (Newfoundland)

Common loon, wood duck and brown pelican
Left to right: common loon, wood duck and brown pelican

Owls – great horned owl (Alberta), great gray owl (Manitoba), and snowy owl (Quebec)

Great horned owl, snowy owl and great gray owl
Left to right: great horned owl, snowy owl and great gray owl

Corvids – common raven (Yukon), Steller’s jay (British Columbia), and blue jay (Prince Edward Island)

Raven, blue jay and Steller’s jay
Left to right: raven, blue jay and Steller’s jay

Others – osprey (Nova Scotia), roadrunner (New Mexico), “yellowhammer,” or common flicker (Alabama), California gull (Utah)

Exotic Birds

South Dakota’s ring-necked pheasant, Delaware’s Blue Hen chicken, and the Rhode Island Red (chicken) are not native to North America. The pheasant hails from China, while chickens descend from junglefowl, which are native to South Asia.

Birds With the Right Names

Bird symbols with especially appropriate names include the California quail, Hawaiian goose (or nene), Baltimore oriole, Rhode Island Red, and Carolina wren. More surprising are the California gull (Utah’s state bird) and Chinese ring-necked pheasant (South Dakota’s).

Bird Nicknames

Louisiana is nicknamed the Pelican State, Delaware the Blue Hen State.

Miscellaneous

Seagull Monument

Bird Hero

Utah’s official bird, the California gull, was chosen for a specific event. In the summer of 1848, flocks of gulls saved Mormon settlers’ crops from complete destruction by Mormon crickets. The California gull may also be the only state bird honored by a monument (right).

War Hawks

Delaware’s Blue Hen chicken became famous during the Revolutionary War. Alabama adopted the yellowhammer as a symbol of the Civil War.

Peacenik

After adopting the robin, Wisconsin designated the mourning dove its official “symbol of peace.”

Flagmasters

• Louisiana features white pelicans on its state flag.
• The blue background on Delaware’s state flag is said to recall its state bird, the Blue Hen chicken.
• Maryland’s state flag and its state bird, the Baltimore oriole, share the colors black and gold.
• A model of a cardinal is placed on top of staffs carrying Kentucky’s state flag.
• A similar model of the Blue Hen chicken is placed on top of staffs carrying the flag of Delaware’s Governor.

Coast-to-Coast

The goldfinch is the only bird adopted by states on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts (New Jersey and Washington).

Homebody

The Hawaiian goose is the only official bird found in just one state or province.

Northerners

The willow ptarmigan (Alaska), snowy owl (Quebec), gyrfalcon (Northwest Territories), raven (Yukon) and common loon (Ontario and Minnesota) all range north to the Arctic Ocean.

Bird Brain?

The Yukon’s raven is widely considered one of the most intelligent birds.

Quick-Change Artist

Ptarmigan (adopted by Alaska & Newfoundland) are the only state or provincial birds that change colors with the seasons.

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