Sunday, April 14, 2013

State Birds: What They SHOULD Be

I drove over a bridge from Maryland into Virginia today and on the big "Welcome to Virginia" sign was an image of their state bird, the Northern Cardinal - with a yellow bill.  I should have scoffed - another Birds at Large on tap! - but it hardly registered.  Everyone knows that state birds are a big damn joke.  There are a million Cardinals, a scattering a Robins, and just a general lack of thought being put into the whole thing.

States should have to put more thought into their state bird than I put into picking my socks in the morning.  "Ugh, state bird?  I dunno, what're the guys next to us doing?  Cardinal?  OK, let's do that too.  Yeah put it on all the signs.  Nah no time to research the bill color let's just go."  It's the official state bird!  Well, since all these jackanape states are too busy passing laws requiring everyone to own guns or whatever to consider what their state bird should be, I guess I'll have to do it.

1. Alabama.  Official state bird: Yellowhammer.  

Right out of the gate with this thing.  Yellowhammer?  C'mon.  I Asked Jeeves and it told me that Yellowhammer is some backwoods name for a Yellow-shafted Flicker.  Sorry, but that's dumb.  If you want a woodpecker, go for something with a little more cache, something that's at least a full species.

What it should be: Red-cockaded Woodpecker

2. Alaska. Official state bird: Willow Ptarmigan

Willow Ptarmigans are the dumbest sounding birds on earth, sorry.  They sound like rejected Star Wars aliens, angrily standing outside the Mos Eisley cantina because their ID's were rejected.  Why go with these dopes, Alaska, when you're the best state to see the most awesome falcon on earth?

What it should be: Gyrfalcon

3. Arizona.  Official state bird: Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren is like the only boring bird in the entire state.  I can't believe it.

What it should be: Red-faced Warbler

Red-faced Warbler

4. Arkansas.  Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird

Christ.  What makes this even less funny is that there are like 8 other states with Mockingbird as their official bird.  I'm convinced that the guy whose job it was to report to the state's legislature on what the official bird should be forgot until the day it was due and he was in line for a breakfast sandwich at Burger King.  In a panic he walked outside and selected the first bird he could find, a dirty Mockingbird singing its stupid head off on top of a dumpster.

What it should be: Painted Bunting

5. California.  Official state bird: California Quail

...Or the largest most radical bird on the continent?

What it should be: California Condor

6. Colorado.  Official state bird: Lark Bunting

I'm actually OK with this.  A nice choice.  But why not go with the only bird that is (or is pretty much) endemic in your state?

What it should be: Brown-capped Rosy-finch or Gunnison Sage-grouse

7.  Connecticut.  Official state bird: American Robin

Look, this isn't even that hard.  American Robin is American, not special to Connecticut at all.  Is there perhaps another choice?  One that inspires some more local pride?

What it should be: Connecticut Warbler

8. Delaware.  Official state bird: Blue Hen chicken

You know what? I'm not so mad about this.  Whatever, it seems to have some connection to you, even though "blue chicken" plugged into a thesaurus means "sad wuss."

What it should be: Red Knot

9. Florida.  Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird

I am finishing this post the next day because I had to go buy a new computer after I threw my last one out the window when I read that Florida's state bird was the Northern Mockingbird.  I cannot think of a lamer choice.  What's their state beverage, A Half Glass of Warm Tapwater?

What it should be: American Flamingo

10.  Georgia.  Official state bird: Brown Thrasher

I've always liked this.  Way to go, Georgia.

What it should be: Brown Thrasher

11. Hawaii.  Official state bird: Nene

No, not this Nene.  Not this one either.  This one.

What it should be: Nene (the goose)

12. Idaho.  Official state bird: Mountain Bluebird


What it should be: Mountain Bluebird

13.  Illinois.  Official state bird: Northern Cardinal

You know how parents say that thing, "if everybody can't have it, then NOBODY can have it"?  Well, I'm doing that for cardinal.  No one gets the cardinal.  Screw cardinals.

What it should be: Greater Prairie-chicken

14. Indiana.  Official state bird: Northern Cardinal

See above.

What it should be: Bobolink

15. Iowa.  Official state bird: Eastern Goldfinch

Eastern Goldfinch?  That's not even a thing.

What it should be: Dickcissal

16. Kansas.  Official state bird: Western Meadowlark

OK, but I'm only allowing one.

What it should be: Western Meadowlark

17. Kentucky.  Official state bird: Northern Cardinal

[urge to kill: rising]

What it should be: Kentucky Warbler

18. Louisiana.  Official state bird: Brown Pelican

Yes.  The best fit of all.  If I had beads I'd throw them to you, Louisiana.  Note: I could go Louisiana Waterthrush here, but no one thinks of Louisiana when they think of Louisiana Waterthrush, so, whatever.

What it should be: Brown Pelican

19. Maine.  Official state bird: Black-capped Chickadee

Ah, my beloved home state.  I couldn't imagine it any other bird.

What it should be: Black-capped Chickadee

20. Maryland.  Official state bird: Baltimore Oriole


What it should be: Baltimore Oriole

21. Massachusetts.  Official state bird: Black-capped Chickadee

Screw you, Taxachusetts.  Maine wins.

What it should be: Piping Plover

22. Michigan.  Official state bird: American Robin

The most endangered bird in the nation lives ONLY (pretty much) in your state!  Don't you want tourists and pride and crap?  Uggghhhh.

What it should be: Kirtland's Warbler

23. Minnesota.  Official state bird: Common Loon

Alright that works.

What it should be: Common Loon.

24. Mississippi.  Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird

Oh for God's sake.  There's an awesome bird named after you!  NAMED AFTER YOU!

What it should be: Mississippi Kite

25. Missouri.  Official state bird: Eastern Bluebird

Lame, but I don't know what else would be better.

What it should be: Eastern Bluebird

26. Montana.  Official state bird: Western Meadowlark


What it should be: McCown's Longspur

27. Nebraska.  Official state bird: Western Meadowlark


What it should be: Sandhill Crane

28. Nevada.  Official state bird: Mountain Bluebird

Look, Nevada, you're insane.  You should have a bird that also represents what a zany, mixed-up world this is.

What it should be: Himalayan Snowcock

29. New Hampshire.  Official state bird: Purple Finch

OK just go with it.

What it should be: Purple Finch

30. New Jersey.  Official state bird: Eastern Goldfinch

Are you serious?  Another outdated name?  Come on, Jersey.  You've got a fine birding reputation, and you're better than this.

What it should be: Seaside Sparrow

31. New Mexico.  Official state bird: Greater Roadrunner


What it should be: Greater Roadrunner

32.  New York.  Official state bird: Eastern Bluebird


What it should be: Cerulean Warbler

33. North Carolina.  Official state bird: Northern Cardinal

More like Bore-thern Cardinal.

What it should be: Carolina Chickadee

34. North Dakota.  Official state bird: Western Meadowlark

Was Western Meadowlark the official state bird of the entire Louisiana Purchase and they just kept if after becoming states?

What it should be: Chestnut-collared Longspur

35. Ohio.  Official state bird: Northern Cardinal

Uuggghhhhhhh the wooorrrssssttt

What it should be: Indigo Bunting

36. Oklahoma.  Official state bird: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Hell yeah!  Nailed it!

What it should be: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

37. Oregon. Official state bird: Western Meadowlark

STOP IT WITH THE MEADOWLARKS.  I'm resisting the temptation for Oregon Junco here, in favor of something that would never happen.

What it should be: Northern Spotted Owl.

38. Pennsylvania.  Official state bird: Ruffed Grouse

I like it.

What it should be: Ruffed Grouse

39. Rhode Island.  Official state bird: Rhode Island Red Chicken

Hahaha Rhode Island you so crazy

What it should be: Bee Hummingbird haha j/k!  Rhode Island Red Chicken

40. South Carolina.  Official state bird: Carolina Wren

Okay.  Thank you.

What it should be: Carolina Wren

41. South Dakota.  Official state bird: Ring-necked Pheasant

An exotic.  You're kidding me.  Is your state meal General Tso's chicken?  Is your state hat the sombrero?  Is your state anthem the DAMN CANADIAN NATIONAL ANTHEM?

What it should be: Sharp-tailed Grouse

42. Tennessee.  Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird

What is it with Mockingbirds?  I DO NOT understand.  They are garbage birds that eat dumpster trash!  Is that what you want to identify with, Tennessee?

What it should be: Tennessee Warbler

43. Texas.  Official state bird: Northern Mockingbird

Sometimes - after a nice full day, perhaps spent in the company of loved ones - one can forget that the world is a cold, uncaring place full of death and sadness.  Thanks, Texas, the birdiest state in the entire country, for reminding me that this civilization we've built and work our fingers to the bone trying to perfect is as meaningless as a sand castle in the tide. 

What it should be: any other fucking bird in the country other than Northern Mockingbird.  Roseate Spoonbill?  Golden-cheeked Warbler?  Swainson's Hawk?  Aplomado Falcon?  Anything.

44. Utah. Official state bird: California Gull

You named your official state bird after a bird named for a DIFFERENT state?  That is the most pathetic thing I have ever heard.

What it should be: Burrowing Owl

45. Vermont.  Official state bird: Hermit Thrush

Fine.  Thank you for restoring sanity, Vermont.

What it should be.  Hermit Thrush

46. Virginia. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal

Just when I think I'm out they suck me right back in.  Shut up, Virginia.

What it should be: Barred Owl

47.  Washington.  Official state bird: Willow Goldfinch

What is going onnnnnnnn????  Nobody can get the damn goldfinch right!

What it should be: Glaucous-winged Gull

48. West Virginia. Official state bird: Northern Cardinal

West Virginia I am so mad at your right now I could explode.

What it should be: Swainson's Warbler

49. Wisconsin.  Official state bird: American Robin

I'm too tired to be mad.

What it should be: Golden-winged Warbler

50.  Wyoming.  Official state bird: Western Meadowlark

I hate you.

What it should be: Greater Sage-grouse

Final Thoughts: This has been the most depressing post I have ever put together.  Three robins but no Blue Jay?  Seven cardinals but no owls or hawks?  Five goddamn mockingbirds?  This is what we pay taxes for, folks.


John B. said...

I think goldfinch is a decent choice for New Jersey. It's common enough that even non-birders can recognize it, but it's not taken by a lot of other states or eating out of dumpsters. If we're going with a marsh-nesting sparrow, I think I'd prefer Saltmarsh Sparrow over Seaside Sparrow since it has a much narrower range. If the state bird were to change, my preference would be either a bird named for a place in the state (Cape May Warbler) or a bird that's prominent along the shore in the summer like Willet, Common Tern, or Laughing Gull.

For New York, I'd suggest Northern Waterthrush because its scientific name (Parkesia noveboracensis) honors the state.

It's odd that there are so many states with mockingbird as a state bird, but the one state with a strong literary connection with mockingbirds (Alabama) honors a different bird instead.

NickL said...

John you're making a lot of sense here. I didn't even think of Cape May warbler, but that seems to be an obvious choice that respects the birding history of the state.

I didn't know that about Northern Waterthrush, but I'm 100% down with that as a state bird.

Great point about To Kill a Mockingbird (though the killing part might not send the best message).

I think your goldfinch suggestion raises the interesting question about state birds - do we want it to be something recognizable and widespread? In my opinion, the educational opportunities of having a lesser-known but more unique bird are the most important. I'd rather have people seek out my state bird than just see it everywhere.

Jesse Ellis said...

Willow Goldfinch is actually a local American Goldfinch subspecies...

Manticore said...

Why not Florida Scrub Jay? At least those aren't lawn ornaments.

NickL said...

The Scrub-Jay would be a fine choice, Manticore, I just thought the Flamingo worked better because A) it's super rare, and B) it pretty well exemplifies the gaudy neon spirit of Florida

Frank Izaguirre said...

Fun post. I read somewhere, possibly in Terry Tempest Williams's memoir Refuge, that at some point when the Mormons had settled in Utah, a plague of locusts was destroying all their crops until an immense of flock of California gulls came and ate the locusts. So the gulls pretty much saved them since they would've starved otherwise. Probably has something to do with why it's the state bird.

I've never been happy mockingbird as my home state's bird, even though they are super common in Florida and sing beautifully. I'm not keen on American flamingo though, since there are more lawn ornamenent flamingos than actual flamingos. I'd pick snowy egret or great egret. Florida scrub-jay might be OK too since it's endemic, but that bird isn't even in most of the state and I don't feel it represents where I'm from, Miami.

Enjoyed the list.

Anonymous said...

Why did you select the Connecticut Warbler for CT other than for its namesake? The bird is rarely found in the state.

NickL said...

Why is it named Connecticut Warbler in the first place, then? Regardless of how often it shows up, I think if there's a bird named for the state it can be state bird.

Andy McGann said...

Pennsylvania ought to be the Chestnut-sided Warbler! I've been saying it for years. Why? Because it's Setophaga pensylvanica !!

Mike said...

Nice, Nick! As a New Yorker, I'm cool with bluebirds, but would definitely take Cerulean Warbler. Waterthrushes aren't charismatic enough.

Anonymous said...

In response to Andy, i like the ruffed grouse for PA. Why? I'm an avid outdoorsman and this is a species I always look forward to seeing. I'm in an ornithology class in college right now, and if there is one thing i have learned, it is that i'm not a big songbird person. While the Chestnut-sided warbler wouldn't be a bad choice at all, i really do prefer the the Ruffed Grouse.

Anonymous said...

Would love to see American Dipper for a western state!

Is there a chance that if robins, cardinals, and mockingbirds were not the state bird of any state people would be wondering "why not?"

Sandy Sandmeyer said...

I just giggled and giggled reading this post. I've often wondered why states choose the same bird as other states. Boring! I didn't even realize there were no Blue Jays! What about cool birds like Stellar Jays, Green Jays, Scrub Jays? Sigh. If they'd just put US in charge.

Josh Chapman said...

Enjoyed this thoroughly. Having grown up in Florida I found your thoughts on its state bird funny and on-point, but I wouldn't feel good about the flamingo. Maybe as the mascot for some awful Miami Beach nightclub, sure. But I think we'd do better with something weird that you can actually find in FL like Anhinga or Limpkin.

Jerry Mc Kenna said...

I enjoyed the list. As a born NJ resident the Goldfinch is a fine choice. For many urban residents, as I was during my childhood, it was not a common bird to see. As far a New York goes, perhaps it is common today, but not too many years ago it was on the decline. There was a very well publicized program to encourage Bluebird Nest Boxes. When I started birding (about 20 miles south of the New York border), I would only see Bluebirds regularly once I hit NY (usually along highway 17). So, I fine choice for NY.

Carlos Ross said...

Dead wrong on Florida - it should be Florida Scrub-Jay.

Ryan O'Donnell said...

Loved this post; funny and right on. I'm not sure it's consistent to suggest Himalayan Snowcock for Nevada and then criticize South Dakota for Ring-necked Pheasant because it's an exotic. I'd suggest Sage Sparrow for Nevada, especially if it gets split and becomes A. nevadensis.

Frank is right about the story of gulls saving the mormons from a cricket infestation, and thus being honored as the state bird. However, California Gull has only been designated the state bird by common practice; the actual law designates the "sea gull" as the official state bird, which is lame. I'm okay with California Gull, but not "sea gull."

Cody said...

I've always felt that Canyon Wren was a better fit for Arizona than Cactus Wren. It's a more evocative bird, for a very evocative landscape. And also, you know, is commonly found *throughout the state*

Unknown said...

Great post. As a Nevadan, I have to disagree with the Himalayan Snow cock but get the point. There isn't a bird more Nevada than the Pinon Jay. Could handle a canyon wren too...

Anonymous said...

Gotta say, I like having the California Quail as the bird for California. Condors are cool and all, but how badly would it suck to have a state bird that goes extinct while the state is still in existence? Then you'd have a conflict with the state fossil, and that wold be both embarrassing and silly.

NickL said...

Lot of great points in the comments, everyone!

Re: Nevada - I think I'm guilty of an outsider's point of view on this. Non-Nevadans tend to conflate Nevada with Las Vegas, which is a dumb thing to do (I did the same thing for Florida). Thus, my Snowcock pick unfairly ignored the rest of this lovely state. While I still like the thought of the whole state rallying around a weird exotic, I think Pinyon Jay or Sage Sparrow are great choices.

Re: Utah/California Gull - deal. A state bird with a backstory (and not a crappy one, like Alabama) works for me. Keep it.

Re: California. Writingfornature you make a good point about the bird going extinct, but wouldn't making the Condor the state bird up the ante for folks to ensure that it doesn't die out? It's such an impressive bird - fitting with such an impressive state - that it's just a better match than a quail, I think.

John Emerson said...

ND: prairie chicken.

The killdeer should be someone's state bird.

SD: world's best pheasant hunting, a mainstay of the economy (tourism). Most useful and tastiest state bird.

Anonymous said...

If you are refering to "To Kill a Mockingbird", it was written long after the bird was named state bird.

Anonymous said...

I'm in agreement with the earlier post about Connecticut warblers. They're named CT warblers because the person who got to name them shot one while it was passing through Connecticut. They're rare in Connecticut and don't breed there. What about piping plovers? Or black skimmers--they're cool birds! Or scarlet tanagers.
I also have to say that I love California quails. Can't believe you'd diss them like that!
Thanks for a fun post.

Unknown said...

Re California: The grizzly on their flag is already extinct-- I wouldn't want to set up the Condor for failure with the precedent already set! I vote Clark's Nutcracker. Nothing against a good quail, but everyone knows they say "Chicago!" and that is just plain misleading.

Hi, my name is... said...

80% of the Cerulean Warbler population lives in West Virginia.

SeEtta Moss said...

Actually the Condor for California would likely set them up for two extirpated species. Now that the USFWS has issued it's precedent setting 'take permit' for Condors at a wind farm, it shouldn't take long to chop them to pieces as California's wind turbines have done to many Golden and Bald Eagles.

Anonymous said...

This is awesome! And you are SO RIGHT about south Dakota--a freakin' exotic but it brings in the tourist bucks... and vice presidents who shoot their staffers :)

Art D. said...

But what about DC, PR, Guam, and the Virgin Islands???

Anonymous said...

It annoys me that the Tundra Chicken is Alaska's state bird, although in one way it's highly appropriate because it's something that can be shot. Gyrfalcons are cool, but the Common Raven should be our state bird. We love them for their calls, playful antics, and place in Tlingit legend. We hate them because they rip into garbage bags and poop all over our vehicles. They are freakin' tough, too. Even at -40 they find enough food to eat by noon and still have time to screw off during our short winter days.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and my runner-up choice for Alaska would be the Arctic Warbler.

Anonymous said...

No one who's actually been to Arizona and seen a Cactus Wren would consider it "boring." Maybe you should schedule a visit sometime.

jcanoe said...

Under Alabama, you suggest, "If you want a woodpecker, go for something with a little more cache, something that's at least a full species."

I would say, "If you want a bird with a little more cache, go with the Acorn Woodpecker."

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that you threw a GWGU at Washington. You missed one of the best birds in the ENTIRE COUNTRY and Seattle's City Bird - The Great Blue Heron. You have been hereby overruled by the birders of Washington!

Anonymous said...

That's funny.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this!

I have some info on how these birds may have been chosen. When I was kid growing up on Long Island, maybe 4th or 5th grade, our school was involved in a state-wide effort to choose the state insect. We picked dragonfly and it won! There were different teams, kids, who chose the insect they liked, had to research it and then promote it in some way. We wrote a song ... don't remember it, though. Dragonfly is cool, but ... now I realize the obvious question would be: Which dragonfly? I wonder if state birds are chosen the same way. School kids and teachers campaigning in some way for their favorite.

I'm not sure how well school teachers know their birds. Here in NJ, where I happen to like the Goldfinch as state bird (but they should fix the name!), one of my neighbors, a high school science teacher, was amazed by the "bright yellow bird" at my feeder that he had NEVER seen before!!! Now that's depressing!

nbeer said...

This is hilarious, and you are a genius. I'd love to have a beer with you and the "WTF Evolution?" writer.

Anonymous said...

With respect, the North Carolina state bird really should be the Carolina Parakeet, a truly beautiful bird and the only parrot native to the Eastern U.S.

Alas, we killed them all.

Anonymous said...

The state bird of Minnesota SHOULD NOT be the loon. Only lives here part of the year. We don't need you if you can't take the winter.

I say black-capped chickadee.

Anonymous said...

As another hunter and outdoorsman who lives in the west, I'll agree with some prior comments on the Snowcock as Nevada's bird.

I've actually seen the Snowcock up close (while hunting mountain goat in the East Humboldt Mountains above Clover Valley) and they're a noisy SOB. Practically startled me down the side of the mountain the first time one flew out of a cliff face about 5' in front of my face. They're a very interesting bird, but they're relatively rare in Nevada and the bag limit is 1 (one) per season. Most people who aren't birders in search of the Snowcock, or hunters of mountain goats or bighorn sheep will never, ever see a Snowcock. They'd be almost mythical in status.

A more interesting introduction to Nevada (and the rest of the intermountain west) from south Asia in the same timeframe was the Chukar, which is now a very widely hunted bird in Nevada, found on most any of the mountain ranges and draws between mountains where there's cheatgrass. The Chukar is as successful an introduction in the Great Basin as Pheasant was to South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. Chukar hunters like to say the following about Chukar: "You hunt them once for sport, the rest of your life for revenge."

As for the Sage Grouse (any sage grouse) as a state bird: Eh, I'm not a fan of this idea. They're 10 pounds of stupidity in a two pound bird. Shooting a straight-away trap clay is more challenging than shooting a Sage Grouse. They taste like hammered horse poop. And one of the reasons why they're T&E is their sheer level of stupidity. The last sage grouse I killed was with the driver's side mirror on my pickup. Stupid bird should have just stayed put off the side of the road. But nooooo....

Annefj said...

Love your article! But I'm kinda fond of mockingbirds too--they are so cheerful. I live in the California desert and we have lots of them, and cactus wrens too, which are very interesting birds (to me at least, as an immigrant). Love ravens too--amazing that they live down here and in Alaska, row utterly different types of climate. I agree about the California Condor too. They are magnificent.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Iowa, and I've seen thousands of goldfinches (no comment on whether they're eastern or not), but I've never even HEARD of a dickythistle in my entire life until I saw this on Slate. If you're going to suggest a state bird that the people of that state haven't even heard of, you'll need more justification than just your irritation.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Kansas. When I sadly lay down my copy of "What's the Matter with Kansas" and think about the Kansas I once loved, I see a Western Meadowlark perched on a long-shadowed fencepost, singing to the late afternoon golden sun. I'm glad you approved of Kansas' choice and I suggest that a state bird should be the one that is familiar, yet distinctive, enough to evoke fond memories. I'd then go with a second category of "Most Endangered."

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! As an Oregon resident who is of Californian origin (Californicator) I really gotta say, I have always liked the California Quail, and there is something to be said for a successful species. I am also quite fond of Oregon juncos, but I admire the wickedness of your suggestion. Which I guess would have us taken over inexorably and unkindly by the Virginia bird... we get Lazuli buntings here (to round out the pretty buntings...) ... or perhaps we could go with the reputation we have in this state of being not completely sophisticated persons who are pretty good at catching fish, and go for the Double-Crested Cormorant...

Cal W said...

Love it! Thanks for setting the record right.

Jennifer said...

Firstly, this is amazing, and I agree with everything, mostly because I honestly wouldn't know any better, and also because you let us keep our state bird (California Gull).
Secondly, I was finally forced to comment because I really want to thank you for introducing me to Willow Ptarmigans. I went and listened to its call, and then laughed for five minutes straight. I went on a cruise to Alaska, and they failed to mention this bird on their 20 minute animal powerpoint, and I'm incredibly disappointed in them. Why wouldn't you want to flaunt such a hilarious state bird if you have one? After all, Utah have a seagull statue.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that the Northern Mockingbird is overused, why did you associate Mockingbirds eating trash out of dumpsters for Tennessee?? You thing we're all Tennessee Trash here?? Way to insult some of your would be readers.

I do want to say that if you had done any research into the Tennessee Warbler you will know that they only pass through the state. They are found more in the fall than in the spring. So you would have our state bird be a non-nesting bird that would be a hard bird to even hear sing for the average person? The only reason Tennessee is even in the name is because that is just where it was first shot and collected. Don't go Nashville Warbler next either because same goes for that species.

As for Black-capped Chickadee as the state bird of Maine (and I have nothing against this species) but by your standards - what a very common bird indeed. What about the harder to find (but greater reward) Boreal Chickadee - or Canada Warbler since you right next to Canada (eh?). Oh, wait, I know - Black-bellied Plover fits your model for Tennessee. It's perfect! It would already be in breeding plumage for the 3-4 weeks you'd be able to find it in the spring and still holding on to its plumage for the 3-4 weeks in the fall. Now some may linger or be late passing through to possibly extend time in your state. I'd vote for one of the cool owls or hawks (in your state or possibly the seasonal Common Redpoll because anything must be better than a common bird.

Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoehenheim den Sidste said...

In defence of Utah:

When God unleashed a plague of locusts to eat up all the food and drive out the early Mormon settlers, Satan had massive flocks of California Gulls fly in to eat up the insects and save the day for the settlers. The modern day inhabitants of Salt Valley are still appreciative of that favor, and have reason to honor the birds accordingly.

Anonymous said...

West Virginia is strange. The cardinal is the state bird, yet the red grosbeak is on one of its license plates. I have never seen one here in WV. Cardinals are everywhere, but a bird I sometimes see is the Towhee. They are beautiful and not yet taken. I would reject almost any warbler, they require serious work to see except during migration. As an aside, I was in France once and the only American bird I saw being sold as a cage bird is a cardinal. They are a beautiful bird. Europe largely has dull birdfs.

Anonymous said...

Thoughts on Virginia:

1) I'm good with ditching the generic cardinal.

2) The barred owl would be a ridiculous replacement: I've spent 30 years of my life in Virginia - in northern Virginia, in Tidewater, in far southwest Virginia, and various places in between. And I've never even *heard* of this bird. Sorry, but this is a dumber idea than keeping the cardinal.

3) A better idea: the wood thrush. If you played its song to a random sample of native Virginians, my bet is that most of them would say something like, "What IS that bird? I have no idea what it is, but I've been hearing its song all my life." And this nondescript-looking brown bird with the beautiful song should damned well be the state bird of *somewhere*, so why not Virginia?

Tybalt said...

By comparison, the list of Canada's official birds kicks ass...

NL - Atlantic Puffin
NS - Osprey
PE - Blue Jay
NB - Black-capped Chickadee
QC - Snowy Owl
ON - Common Loon
MB - Great Grey Owl
SK - Sharp-tailed Grouse
AB - Great Horned Owl
BC - Steller’s Jay
YT - Common Raven
NT - Gyrfalcon
NU - Rock Ptarmigan

Now that's a list.

Anonymous said...

funny post and I agree with your view of cardinals and mockingbirds. But you got California wrong! Even though I love condors (my favorite family of birds is the Cathartids), I think that the CA state bird should be the yellow-billed magpie. Totally endemic within the great central valley and really badass.

Anonymous said...

*Thank you* for making this librarian laugh out loud during an overly long stint at the reference desk (budget cuts and all).

Illinois: How about Jailbird in honor of Rod B?

Delaware: A librarian buddy (Mainer & UD alum) told me that the University of Delaware's mascot is the Blue Hen only because no one had the spine to use the name of what the original bird was about: a fighting cock from the Revolutionary War days. UD mascot "YoUDee" and state bird should really be the Blue Cock. True dat.

Anonymous said...

Inspirational. Right on!

Grace said...

This is WONDERFUL and immediately getting emailed to all of my birder friends.

But I must say... Glaucous-winged Gull for Washington?! I'd go with something a bit more exciting... like Rhinoceros Auklet. Or, to span the East/West divide, something montane (and adorable): Gray Jay!

Redwood Rhiadra said...

When I was living in Florida, I learned that the whole "Mockingbird" thing was just something to tell the out-of-staters. All Floridians know the *real* state bird is the mosquito...

Liz C said...

I'm still proud of Maryland's state bird even though I haven't lived there for 7 years. Best state flag, too, IMHO. I could do without the Black-Eyed-Susan as state flower though.

And if we were honest, Minnesota's state bird would really be the mosquito.

Alex Harman said...

What really gets me about all those mockingbirds is that all five states that claim the northern mockingbird as their state bird are southern states. What's up with that?

Also, Simuliidae.

Pam Hunt said...

FYI, I recall reading somewhere that it was likely FRANKLIN'S Gull that "saved the Mormons." And it's a much cooler bird than California Gull.

Anonymous said...

The Arizona state bird is the biggest of all Werns.

Unknown said...

Arizona state bird is fine, if we do change it. I'll say the Harris's Hawk. Why? If you live in Arizona in Tucson. Go to the Sonar desert museum in may. If you don't read it on wiki it's a badass bird.

Anonymous said...

Great post -- hilarious. Seriously, though, there are several warblers with completely inappropriate names. In alphabetical order: Cape May, Connecticut, Nashville, and Tennessee. None of these warblers has any real connection with the places they're named for, with most of them breeding in Canada and wintering well south of Cape may, etc.

Therefore, to suggest -- even jokingly? -- that Connecticut and Tennessee take those warblers as their state birds is silly. Why not suggest Virginia take Virginia's Warbler as its state bird?

Maybe the AOU will be willing -- finally -- to change these warblers' names to something more appropriate. The precedent is there, with the Long-Tailed Duck.

While they're at it, they could give more appropriate names to the Magnolia and Palm Warblers, too....

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Anonymous said...

Whooping Crane for Texas!

Anonymous said...

Oh you had me so tight until Cerulean Warbler for NY - there range barely makes it there - just the tip, and just for the summer ;)

I have never once seen an eastern bluebird in that entire state. Alternative?
Bluejay is solid
White-breasted nuthatch also has the appropriate attitude.
Osprey (cause someone 'oughta)

Haha, otherwise, love it.

Anonymous said...

Of course you would have to go there. Why not just complete the insult to Alabama by saying our state bird is a house sparrow? Or better yet, a pigeon!

On a more serious note, I see nothing wrong with having the Yellowhammer Woodpecker (NOT a Flicker, thanks) as the state bird. But, if it was ever changed, I'd be more in favor of one of our hawks or owls. Maybe even a Kingfisher, jay, or even the adorable Titmouse.

Susie Bright said...

I loved it when you lost it, at South Dakota. You should be Bird Czar! And I'd like to hear this column live on stage.

My native California heart skips a beat when I witness condors in flight, so I say YES to that!

BKWRM said...

Love this! And you are RIGHT ON. Well, for the most part you are. I'm going to question your acceptance of NH's bird. When I think of NH, I think of owls--the million of owls that wake me up in the middle of the night with their super-cool "Who Cooks For You" calls. I would've taken Cedar Waxwing as well, because, well, who wouldn't want a batman-looking bird as their state bird??

Anonymous said...

Here in Indiana, I'm annoyed with the Cardinal as well. As a birder, I would agree that the Bobolink would be a better candidate, however, I think that the Cerulean Warbler would be perfect. It would make more sense than making NY have it, I think, since that's the edge of its range, while Indiana is in the heart of its range.

Unknown said...

I know I'm a few years too late, but I heard you on Talkin' Birds a few weeks ago regarding this, and while I agree Maine rocks and should get BCCH, I'm also starting to think Atlantic Puffin would be a better option. I mean we did pretty much bring them back from like what, 1 or 2 nesting pairs. Also (I may be wrong) but it's the only place in the U.S. where they actively nest. Don't get me wrong, I love the Chickadees, but by this post's logic we should be shooting for endemic bird.

Anonymous said...

JSYK, I think a lot of state birds (and state symbols in general) are selected when school children petition the government. It seems to be a pretty common school project. So it's not necessarily that government officials are selecting the most "boring" or common or lame bird, it's that kids are picking the most easily-recognizable bird, and most kids are not birders...

Anonymous said...

I am from Illinois and I do not like that the cardinal is the state bird. The cardinal is the state bird in so many states. It is annoying. I think that the red winged blackbird should be the state bird.

Spurwing Plover said...

Here in California its the California Quail and according to many its call gose CHI-A-GO but my mom said its call was SIT-RIGHT-HERE

Unknown said...

I think that Greater Roadrunner is a great choice for New Mexico; it's not too common, but not too uncommon. However, a White-winged Dove would be the most appropriate bird, as they are everywhere in southern NM. In fact, Las Cruces has been practically dubbed the 'White-winged Dove capital.'

David Blomstrom said...

Wow, awesome article!

I'm working on a book about symbols of the 50 states (Geobop's State Symbols) that will include a report card for each state, based in part on the appropriateness of various "ecosymbols," such as state birds.

I'm definitely going to link to your article and perhaps mention some of your suggestions, with your permission.

My book (which only be available as an epub/ebook for now) will hopefully be finished about the end of October. You can learn more about it @ There's also a contact page for anyone who wants to contact me.

P.S. The red knot is a great suggestion for Delaware, as it feeds on the eggs of the horseshoe crab, which was designated Delaware's official marine animal.

I assume you heard about the osprey being adopted as Oregon's official raptor, with the meadowlark being redesigned the official songbird.

Unknown said...

I laughed out loud several times while reading this, great job!!
I completely agree that with all the great birds they have, Texas could have been a lot more creative. For example, how about White-tailed Hawk?
Also, great point brought up by a previous poster, the Carolina Parakeet is the best possible choice for North Carolina. Such a shame that bird is extinct.

Bruzote said...

How was it so many people called Northern Mockingbird's cheerful? Obviously, these people have never had a Mockingbird dive-bombing them as the walked along a public sidewalk, a place a Mockingbird should have known was trafficked BEFORE building a nest. Plus, they are selfish, trying to occupy the soundscape from start of the day to very well into the dark night.

Anonymous said...

You are sooooo write on!!!

JCK said...

Ignorant and insulting

JCK said...

Ignorant and insulting!

R. Burbank said...

"Ignorant and insulting!"

Ignorant of what? Come on, enlighten us, don't just pitch a fit.

Anonymous said...

The common raven should DEFINITELY be Alaska's state bird. Anyone can see them because are everywhere, bold, noisy, and incredibly graceful acrobats.

Anonymous said...

I remember voting as a child in grammar school in the '50's for WV's state bird. It had been the Black Capped Chickadee, but the Cardinal won. Kids will vote for flashy & colorful every time. Kids should not vote for state wide elections! Now I live in CA & love the Gambel's Quail. Condors are huge, not doing very well (we just lost one to lead poisoning) and not photogenic - my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Yes Macaulay Library applications programmer Matt Smith mostly stuck to lighthearted suggestions except for Massachusetts: Official state Black-capped Chickadee. Very surprised by his choice of words working for a library:
“Screw you, Taxachusetts” Maine wins.
What it should be: Piping Plover

Anonymous said...

How about the Boat-tailed Grackle for Texas? Have you been to Austin lately? The trees there are filled with them, and their song almost drowns out normal beachside conversations.

Paul Fisher said...

Looks like you’re getting a spate of comments after your post was linked on the Cornell Lab’s blog. As a Masshole, I would suggest that the fact that both us and Maine share the chickadee as our state birds to be more evidence for the fact that Maine is still essentially an extension of Massachusetts and should be reintegrated back into the Commonwealth for its own good.

Karen M said...

This was great - thanks for the info and laughs.

Jim said...

Thank you so much for your humorous post. I’m reading it first thing this morning. Now I’ll start the day with a smile.
Great job!
Request: state insects please!

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