Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"State of the State Birds", or no I actually don't have this much time on my hands

Ok, this is a complete repost from something I wrote for my livejournal back in 2006. Now that I have a birding blog it seemed right to revisit the idea. So without further ado here it is.


Well I have had it in my head to do this for several days. No I am not actually this bored nor do I have a lot of time to kill but I just wanted to do this for some time. The recent attempts to have Michigan's state bird changed from the American Robin to the Kirtland's Warbler got me thinking about the "state" of our state birds. When looking at any list of our state birds, it is easy to see the lack of diversity between the states. For example 6 states have Western Meadowlark, 6 have Northern Cardinal, 5 have Northern Mockingbird, 3 have American Robin, 3 have American Goldfinch, 2 have Black-capped Chickadee, 2 have a breed of chicken, and 4 have some kind of bluebird. We have 51 "states" (including the district of columbia) that have named a state bird, but only 27 species represented. I feel this is a misuse of the state bird system.

Shouldn't a state bird reflect something interesting about the state? An interesting historical anecdote, or represent a unique habitat type or a dominant/unique ecoregion of the state (a mountain bird for a mountain state, a seabird for a maritime state, etc.). I feel this could help bolster state ecotourism. Wouldn't it be more interesting to travel to a state and see your lifer in the state where it was the state bird? Personally I don't like the trend of naming the most common or flashy and easy to see bird in a state the state bird. Doing something just because joe public (or a 2009 update "joe six-pack") might have heard of it or approve isn't always the greatest idea. This trend has resulted in the lack of diversity in the state bird mentioned above. Just because Robins, and Mockingbirds, Cardinals, etc. are easy to see doesn't mean EVERY state needs to name these ubiqutous species.

In fact naming a more obscure species might inspire the public to learn at least a little more about their local avifauna, which could lead to a better appreciation for conservation as a whole. I have decided to make a list of the current state birds and an example of what I feel would be a better choice. Feel free to comment on this and come up with your own choices!

Getting it right the first time, the states that did a good job.

1. Oklahoma: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Ah here is a state that did itself proud. No other state claims the beautiful ST Flycatcher as its state bird, it is also relatively breeding range restricted to the southern plains and is not a species everyone knows about. Good job Oklahoma!

2. New Mexico: Greater Roadrunner. An excellent choice. No other state has it as a state bird, it is an interesting species that truly speaks of the southwest. New Mexicans can be proud.

3. Pennsylvania: Ruffed Grouse. Very nice, only state to claim it, represents the eastern forests of pennsylvania well and represents the hunting culture of the quaker state.

4. Minnesota: Common Loon. What bird better speaks to the image of the northwoods? The haunting call of the loon makes the lakes of the northwoods summer special. What better bird could you think of for the land of 10,000 lakes?

5. Utah: California Gull. This falls into the interesting historical anecdote catagory. I believe the people of Utah named this the state bird because they ate a locust or cricket plague that was threatening the early farmers of Utah.

6. Maryland: Baltimore Oriole. The bird named after the lord baltimore, whose coat of arms colors matched it perfectly.

7. Louisiana: Brown Pelican. Good choice, represents the gulf coast region well.

OK but could be changed

8. New Hampshire: Purple Finch. Does represent the northern regions but the range may be a bit wide. How about Bicknell's Thrush.

9. Alaska: Willow Ptarmigan. Really a good choice, unique to alaska (as far as not being in other US states) however the lack of birds of prey on the state birds list should be changed, so how about Gyrfalcon.

10. Hawaii: Nene. Unique, but what native Hawaiian birds aren't? How about one of the highly endangered honeycreepers to give evidence to their plight, my favorite is the akohekohe also known as the crested honeycreeper.

11. Colorado: Lark Bunting. I like Lark Buntings a lot and they are unique to the plains. However I think of Colorado as the quintensential Mountain state, so to reflect that, how about White-tailed Ptarmigan.

12. Vermont: Hermit Thrush. Only state to have it, the hermit thrush is a good indicator of the northern forests but its range is pretty wide. How about something more restricted to the northeast like Black-throated Blue Warbler.

13. South Carolina: Carolina Wren. It is named Carolina Wren, and it is a bird somewhat of the southeast. But what about the suite of birds truly endemic to the southeastern pine forests. Let's go with Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

14. District of Columbia: Wood Thrush. Good eastern forest bird but I think of DC as being surrounded by water with the potamac, so how about a wetland species like Prothonotary Warbler.

Not completely bad, but should be changed.

15/16. Delaware and Rhode Island. Varieties of the domestic Chicken. Not completely bad as these are quirky state birds for two little known states; but having domestic fowl as a state bird still seems like a bad idea. How about Red Knot for Delaware, as it is a crucial migration spot and Purple Sandpiper for Rhode Island, as the rocky coastline is prime wintering grounds for this species.

17. South Dakota: Ring-necked Pheasant. Well it is a bird many people hunt for in SD but it still is an introduced species. How about a native game species, like Greater Prairie-Chicken.

18. Alabama: Northern Flicker. Only state to have it as the state bird. However the Flicker is very widespread, how about another southeastern specialty, the Brown-headed Nuthatch.

19. Arizona: Cactus Wren. Really not a bad choice at all. But I just think Arizona needs to name the elf owl the state bird. How cool are the pictures of a tiny owl staring out of a cavity in a giant saguaro? The answer, VERY cool.

20. Georgia: Brown Thrasher. Only state to claim it but too widespread, another southeastern specialty, Bachman's Sparrow (sparrows are kind of drab for John Q. public but Bachman's do have a pretty song).

21. California: California Quail. Well similar to Carolina Wren, an ok choice. However California is so diverse and has so many species (including endemics) that it is difficult to name something here. However I have decided on Marbled Murrelet, a seabird that nests in the giant conifers, so represents the ocean and the unique giant trees of california.

The states that copy eachother, state birds that must be changed.

22. Arkansas: Mocker. Too many states have this bird, if the Ivory-billed discovery is ever verified, why not the Lord God bird? (2009 redo: as it appears ever more clearer that Ivory-bills are not haunting the swamps of Arkansas, I'll change this choice to Whip-poor-will because the Ozarks are a crucial part of their range).

23. Connecticut: Robin. Robins live pretty much everywhere, but I am having trouble thinking of something for this one, so how about Scarlet Tanager, more strictly a bird of the eastern half of the US.

24. Florida: Mocker. How about something that is more restricted to the swamps and marshes, like say Snail Kite.

25. Idaho: Mountain Bluebird. Also the state bird of Nevada. How about something associated with the Lewis and Clark expedition that famously struggled through the mountains of Idaho, like Clark's Nutcracker.

26. Illinois: Cardinal. How about something associated with the prairie country of pre-settlement illinois, like the Dickcissel.

27. Indiana: Cardinal. How about a species associated with the great deciduous forests of the pre-settlement ohio river vallery, like the Cerulean Warbler

28. Iowa: Goldfinch. Shared with other states. Another prairie bird, Upland Sandpiper?

29. Kansas: W. Meadowlark. Shared with other states. One of the last strongholds of Lesser Prairie Chicken

30. Kentucky: Cardinal. Can we say KENTUCKY WARBLER!

31. Maine: BC Chickadee. I struggled for a bit thinking I should put in a northern forest bird, but wait what better than Atlantic Puffin!

32. Massachusetts: BC Chickadee. Hmmm difficult but Harlequin Ducks do winter on the coast.

33. Mississippi: Mocker. Another good southeastern bird Anhinga?

34. Missouri: Eastern Bluebird. Shared with other states. Stronghold of Henslow's Sparrow.

35. Montana: Western Meadowlark. What state is more associated with Lewis and Clark? How about Lewis' Woodpecker.

36. Nebraska: Western Meadowlark. The famous Platte River migration spot and sandhill region leaves little choice but Sandhill Crane.

37. Nevada: Mountain Bluebird. Nevada is a tough one, hmmm Black-throated Sparrow?

38. New Jersey: Goldfinch. How about something to represent the Pine Barrens, Pine Warbler.

39. New York: Eastern Bluebird. How about another forest warbler, Blackburnian.

40. North Carolina: Cardinal. One of the most well known states for pelagics, Black-capped Petrel?

41. North Dakota: W. Meadowlark. Most people get lifer Bairds Sparrow here, also Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Wow I have really violated my no obscure birds rule with all these sparrows, especially the several ammodramus. What can I say sparrows rule!

42. Ohio: Cardinal. another good forest warbler, Hooded.

43. Oregon: W. Meadowlark. A cool bird of the tall cool northwestern forests, the Hermit Warbler.

44. Tennessee: Mocker. Another southeasternish warbler, the Yellow-throated

45. Texas: Mocker. Texas is difficult with its huge size and wide range of habitats, but how about the breeding endemic, the Golden-cheeked Warbler.

46. Virgina: Cardinal. How about a bird of the coast, American Oystercatcher.

47. Washington: A. Goldfinch. The sound of the northwestern forests, Varied Thrush.

48. West Virgina: Cardinal. I always thought Worm-eating Warbler was a great bird to represent Appalachia

49. Wisconsin: Robin. Wisconsin is tough for me as I grew up only a couple miles away. How to represent both northern forest and prairie? I gave up and went with Black-backed woodpecker, Why? because I like them.

50. Wyoming: W. Meadowlark. Kind of tough what with mountain forests and short-grass prairie. I decided on Ferruginous Hawk to add another bird of prey.

The worst one

51. Michigan: Robin. How can you have a breeding endemic to a very small region in the northern temperate zone(a very unique situation) and instead have one of the most widespread and common birds in North America. GO KIRTLAND'S!!


  1. Hah, Mr. American Birder, yous forgots the most important state of all, Sweden. Cants believes you forgets a state like that, yah, buts not your donts have the benefit of superior Scandinavian ecucation system.

    We has the greatest state bird of all, the Blackbird (Turdus merula - looks it up). It is a birds that is all black dats pretty metal yah. My band Dethklok writes a song about it "Go Forth and Die" - looks it up. A pack of blackbirds cans kills you by ripping off your flesh.

    Also its a good bird for a pie. Blackbird pie is a good pie for a camping trip.

    In conclusions, the Blackbird is a great state bird, I hopes that they all go extinct. From the earth. The end. Period.

    Skwisgaar Skwigelf
    Worlds Fastest Guitarist

  2. I wholeheartedly agree that the state birds need to be swapped: and this map, just posted on "Strange Maps" shows why:

    Redundancy abounds! It even looks bad in soft pastels!

    I'd say we should petition, but there's enough time wasted by politicians as is. (see "stuff cajun people like" post - )

  3. Hi. Believe it or not, I was thinking about this very topic on a long drive today when there was nothing on the radio. When I got home, I was looking for the complete list of state birds on the internet, and I found this post of yours.

    Here are some thoughts about your suggestions:

    Great! but a few qubbles.
    1. If all of your suggestions on the duplications were followed then nobody would have cardinal or robin (perhaps okay, since they are so ubiquitous). But someone should have American Goldfinch and Mountain Bluebird, seems to me.
    2. Seems to me that, ideally, the state bird should be (a) not too rare (b) fairly easily found (c) found over most or all of the state. Thus, I'm a little skeptical about Bicknell's Thrush and even (sorry) Kirtland's Warbler--though I could see Kirtlands as a special case.
    I also am not sure about Black-Capped Petrel for NC or Harlequin Duck for Massachusetts. On the other hand, Atlantic Puffin seems so right for Maine, so....
    3. I totally agree with you on so many of the birds that are right, and I think your suggestion of whipporwill for AR and Greater Prairie Chicken for SD are right on the money.
    4. On the other hand, I kinda like the idea of only the national bird being a bird of prey. Some more non-passerines would be nice, but maybe not more birds of prey.

    Here are a few of my suggestions:
    Florida: Roseate Spoonbill or Great Egret
    Rhode Island: Least Tern
    Colorado: Western Tanager
    Texas: Whooping Crane
    Iowa: Barn Swallow
    Nevada (if Idaho gets to keep the M. Bluebird): Black-throated swift

    Other birds that really need to be represented by SOME state or other:

    Rose-breasted grosbeak: CT, NY, or VT
    Red-winged blackbird: such a typical American bird DE, NC, or any number of states
    Wild Turkey: KY would be the obvious choice...
    Common Yellowthroat: TN, AL, or VA
    Yellow Warbler: wherever
    Great Blue Heron: WI or MI
    Ruby-throated Hummingbird: one of the cardinal or mockingbird states

    Okay. Just felt a need to share some of that. Nice blog, btw.