Friday, August 24, 2012

The state bird of the hypothetical state of Superior?

As most of my readers (or past readers) know, I am from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  This beautiful and rural region has no land connection to the much more densely populated Lower Peninsula and as a consequence has always had its own identity and culture.  This along with various political squabbles has resulted in numerous calls for seperate statehood for the U.P. usually proposing that this new state be known as Superior (after the mighty lake of course).  While this has never come to pass, the idea still comes up in conversation quite frequently amongst yoopers (people from the U.P.) and trolls (people from the Lower Peninsula, because they live "under the bridge") alike.  You may also recall that I am somewhat obsessed by how poorly done our state bird system has chosen its representatives (see a ridiculously long narrative I wrote about the state birds here ).

So, this has naturally lead me to speculate on what the official state bird of Superior would be (you know if it was actually a seperate state).  In my long-winded diatribe about the state of the state birds, I argued for a new system that picks state birds that represented a dominant ecotype in the state (such as a mountain bird for a mountain state, or a coastal bird for a coastal state) or a species that was represenative historically or culturally to the region (for example Baltimore Oriole for Maryland).

Superior is a northern land, filled with boreal and boreal-hardwood transitition forests, interspersed with myriad inland lakes, all tucked in cozily between the shores of the three mightiest Great Lakes.  So what species to pick to represent such a landscape?  Common Loon comes to mind, but in my state of the state birds article, I also argue that states should have unique state birds, not share them across multiple states such as they do now and unfortunately, Minnesota has already claimed the Common Loon.

So what to choose?  I have tossed around ideas in my head for years, Gray Jay, Blackburnian Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, with nothing that really struck me.  However, this year the American Birding Association chose the Evening Grosbeak for its ABA bird of the year (see  Along with its designation the Evening Grosbeak has been the object of much discussion on the ABA blog.  Through this, I learned that the first Evening Grosbeak to be collected for science came from the U.P. (!)  I have since learned that of the first 6 nests, 5 were from the U.P. as well (!  That along with many fine memories of this wandering and beautiful finch from all across the U.P. leaves me with little choice than to propose the ABA bird of the year, the beautiful Evening Grosbeak as the state bird for the hypothetical state of Superior!

An Evening Grosbeak at Whitefish Point, Michigan earlier this summer.  The location of some of the earliest known nests of this species were right at Whitefish Point.