Monday, May 17, 2010

State Birds--Revised

State birds have annoyed me for pretty much as long as I have been birding. None of them seem to make any sense, and very few show any real knowledge about the state's birdlife. The lack of creativity is incredible- 7 states have the cardinal as their state bird, 5 have the mockingbird.

So I decided to change the birds around a bit, with a few rules-
  1.  The bird must naturally occur in that state.
  2.  No two states can have the same bird. 
  3. There has to be a good reason for that bird to be the state bird. 
It also helps for the bird to be visually appealing- Baird's Sparrow may be a North Dakota specialty, but it's hardly going to excite any non-birders in the state. If the bird is Endangered or has a very small range, that helps too. So, in alphabetical order, the 50 new state birds- and one district bird (if there are more than one bird listed, the final choice is in bold)-

Comments are encouraged! There is absolutely no way that you would agree with me on all 51 of these, so voice your opinion about what could be changed.

Alabama -- It was the Yellowhammer, or Northern Flicker, but that doesn't satisfy rule #3, and Swallow-tailed Kite is cooler anyway.

Alaska -- The Willow Ptarmigan is actually a pretty good choice. While there might be a couple better birds, (Ivory Gull, Puffins or Alcids, Gyrfalcon), Alaska can stick with the ptarmigan.

Arizona -- Cactus Wren, the current state bird, isn't bad, but it is brown, and fairly drab. Neither of those characteristics can be associated with the Elegant Trogon, on the other hand, the most brightly colored of the Chiricahua Mountain specialties.
File:Elegant Trogon.jpg
from Wikipedia

Arkansas -- The "Lord God Bird" itself- Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Who cares if it is maybe/probably extinct- it's still a better state bird than the mockingbird.

California -- There are tons of birds in this state, but the California Condor is the largest and the rarest. The current state bird is the California Quail.

Colorado -- (Currently Lark Bunting) Colorado is that state that is most associated with the Rocky Mountains, so I went back and forth between two mountain birds- the American Dipper and Clark's Nutcracker, and decided on the dipper.

Connecticut -- Hermit Thrush has a better song than the American Robin, and Vermont (which currently has the Hermit Thrush) can just take some boreal finch or Bicknell's Thrush.

Delaware -- Seriously, Blue Hen Chicken? Chickens do not make good state birds- they are neither majestic or native. The Red Knot, on the other hand, is native and threatened, and huge numbers stop in Deleware bay during migration

District of Columbia -- (Not technically a state, but they do have an official bird) I was thinking this would be the eagle, but it turns out that it is actually the Wood Thrush, which I'm fine with. 

Florida -- Florida has some of the best birds in the country, so having a Mockingbird as the state bird is stupid. There are a few contenders here- Snail Kite, Florida Scrub Jay, Roseate Spoonbill, and Purple Gallinule. Tough choice, but I'll go with the gallinule.

Georgia -- Brown Thrasher is Ok, I guess, though it is pretty close to a mockingbird...

Hawaii -- Nene is cool, but it's still a brown goose. It is endangered, but so is basically every bird in Hawaii. Honeycreepers are more colorful, and the whole family is restricted to Hawaii, so one of those should be the state bird. My pick is the I'iwi.


Idaho -- Mountain Bluebird. It's blue.

Illinois -- I just picked a warbler for Illinois, to replace the cardinal, because there were no other birds that I could think of. Magnolia Warblers are cool.

Indiana -- Now I sort of see why there are so many Cardinals as state birds. I couldn't think of anything else, so I'm sticking with the Northern Cardinal.

Iowa -- I have no idea, so stick with American Goldfinch.

Kansas -- Western Meadowlark is the state bird of a lot of western states (but interestingly, the Eastern Meadowlark is not a state bird of anything), but here it actually fits.

Kentucky -- It's May, so I'm overloading the Eastern U.S. with warblers, but I'm not going to say Kentucky Warbler. Red-headed Woodpecker works.

Louisiana -- Brown Pelican- that is, if there are any left in the state after that oil spill.

Maine -- (Was Black-capped Chickadee) Definitely Atlantic Puffin. No doubt about it.


Maryland -- They did name their baseball team after it, so Baltimore Oriole has to stay as the state bird.

Massachusetts -- (Was also Black-capped Chickadee) Something like half of the world's population of Piping Plovers breed in MA.

Michigan -- This is the easiest one on the whole list- Kirtland's Warbler.

Minnesota -- Common Loon is on their state quarter and everything, so I guess they wouldn't be happy if it was changed it to Boreal or Great-Gray Owl.

Mississippi -- Mockingbird is fine, but Great Blue Heron is better.

Missouri -- NY gets to keep the Bluebird, so Missouri has to switch. Eurasian Tree Sparrow isn't native, but  Ruby-throated Hummingbird is, and there aren't any other hummers on this list.

File:Archilochus colubris (Male).jpg

Montana -- Greater Sage Grouse deserves to be listed here, and on the endangered species list, but not on the menu of a french bistro. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go here.)

Nebraska -- Sandhill Crane- in migration flocks can number in the hundreds of thousands.

Nevada -- Umm...Hmm...Uh... Give me a minute. (flips through Sibley's) I've got it! Golden Eagle.

New Hampshire -- Purple Finch is OK, but Gray Jays have more charisma.

New Jersey -- (Was American Goldfinch) Cape May is one of the best birding spots in North American, and there is no single species that represents the birdlife of Cape May or New Jersey, but the Cape May Warbler is named after it, so...

New Mexico -- Greater Roadrunner is good.

New York -- It's Eastern Bluebird, and it's going to stay that way.

North Carolina -- (Was Cardinal) Cerulean Warbler is awesome.

North Dakota -- Gyrfalcon!!

Ohio -- Fine. The "Warbler Capital of the World" can have Blackburnian Warbler. See if I care.

Oklahoma -- Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is good.

Oregon -- Varied Thrush. (Was Western Meadowlark, but so were a lot of other states)

Pennsylvania -- Ruffed Grouse- Why not?

Rhode Island -- Rhode Island Red Chicken- here we go with domestic birds as state birds again. How about Peregrine Falcon. Why? Because I saw my first one here. Not that anyone else would care, but seriously, who's going to complain about having a falcon instead of a chicken?

South Carolina -- Carolina Wren makes sense, but Painted Bunting is more brightly colored. By a lot.

South Dakota -- Ring-necked Pheasant is not native, so I'd go with Snowy Owl, even though I don't know how common or uncommon they are there.

Tennessee -- Tennessee Warbler! No, Nashville Warbler... See what I mean about the warbler overload? Whip-poor-Will is unique, though it could be difficult to explain why your state bird is called a goatsucker...

Texas -- Another great birding state with a mockingbird. I was debating between Green Jay and Roseate Spoonbill, but the spoonbill is pink, so it wins.

Utah -- There is actually a good story behind this one. California Gulls saved Mormon settlers by eating a swarm of crickets that would have otherwise destroyed their crops. There is a monument in Salt Lake City commemorating this, known to the Mormans as the "Miracle of the Gulls."

Vermont -- Hermit Thrush has been taken by Connecticut, but Vermont has boreal birds, so there is no problem replacing it. White-Winged Crossbill would be good.

Virginia -- Another Cardinal state. I know there have been a lot of warblers, but there will be one more- Prothonotary Warbler.

Washington -- This should be some sort of alcid. Tufted Puffin wins, beating the drabber Marbled Murrelet and Pigeon Guillemot.

West Virginia -- How about a different red bird? Scarlet Tanager instead of Cardinal.

Wisconsin -- American Robin is the current state bird, and I can't think of anything better, so...

Wyoming -- Dipper, Sage Grouse, Gray Jay, and Mountain Bluebird are all already taken. I personally prefer Clark's Nutcracker, but from a non-birding perspective, Trumpeter Swan wins.

Note- I used some photos from wikipedia or other sources for this post, to illustrate why certain birds (that I have never photographed, or at least not well) should be the state bird. The purple gallinule photo is mine, however.


  1. you messed up on Florida... clearly should be the plastic flamingo, and some state oughta take the turkey vulture, 'cuz that bird don't get no respect (but would look cool on a license plate)

  2. I'm not sure if plastic flamingos count as "native" birds, but they definitely are common in Florida.

    Turkey Vulture would be a cool state bird- I'm not sure if the residents of that state would be too happy about it, but still...

    Of course, some people might say that vulture would be perfect for Washington, DC, or New York (wall street) but I'm not going to go there.


  3. Interesting list. It'd be nice if all the state birds were more diverse.
    Here's a few better suggestions tho:
    WY is the Sage-grouse state. Switch it with Montana. Let Montana take Trumpeter Swan

    Yes, it's a domestic bird, however, Rhode Island Red was named after the state..... If it has to be a wild bird, why not give it another reddish colored one? How about Roseate Tern?

    Let Wisconsin have the Peregrine Falcon. Much cooler than Robins. :)

  4. Oh, and leave Carolina Wren where it is. Texas deserves Painted Bunting. :)

  5. Thanks for the comment.

    Most of those changes sound good- Roseate Tern for RI, Peregrine for Wisconsin, WY/MT switch, but I'm reluctant to push out Roseate Spoonbill from Texas. Are there any other states (apart from Florida) with a lot of Spoonbills? Maybe Mississippi.

  6. If turkey vultures aren't cool, then california condors aren't much better, since they look almost the same only oversized, plus in 90% of the state no one will ever see one.

    The California Quail is already an excellent state bird -- it's fun, distinctive, strongly associated with the region, and not lacking in color.

  7. I am wondering if you would give me permission to use your I'wii bird photo for a brochure on pollinators in Hawaii?