The State Birds of the United States. Installment Three.
Just about every American citizen is aware that the Bald Eagle is the avian symbol of the United States of America. The Bald Eagle is a powerful animal, and an imposing sight soaring high over mountains and seas, but it is by no means the only bird that we use to represent ourselves. This country has 50 states that bring it together, and each of those 50 states also has a bird they have chosen to represent them.
Maryland’s Baltimore Oriole
The Baltimore oriole was chosen as Maryland’s avian representative in 1947. The males are jet black with bright orange to yellow chests and shoulders. The females also sport brighter yellow fronts but the jet black is replaced with a toned-down olive green. They feast on insects, nectar and ripe fruit of dark hues throughout the Great Planes and the eastern United States. Their range overlaps that of a very similar bird, the Bullocks oriole. The two species have been known to interbreed, nesting in an intricate hanging nest made of plant fibers, tree bark, and whatever string they can find. In the areas where they interbreed the two species are known collectively as the Northern oriole.
Minnesota’s Common Loon
It’s no surprise that lake filled Minnesota picked a water loving bird like the common loon to represent their state. Juvenile and non-breeding adults are a grey or brown bird with white throats and necks, but they are more often pictured in their breeding adult plumage of eyecatching black and white patterns with glossy black heads. They sport a heavy, dagger-like beak with internal projections to help them hold onto slippery fish, which they can dive as far as 200 feet below the surface to catch. They are expert divers, and speedy fliers, but because their feet are positioned farther back on their bodies than most birds they are clumsy on land. Because of this they only venture onto the shore to mate and incubate their eggs and they do that as close to the water as possible. Migrating loons have been known to become stranded if they don’t have a nearby body of water long enough for them to take off into the air.
Eastern Bluebird of Missouri and New York
In 1927 Missouri chose the brightly colored and cheerful Eastern bluebird to represent their state, but it took over forty years for New York to make the same decision. Both male and female eastern bluebirds have blue heads, wings and tails with reddish-orange chests, though the males plumage is a much brighter hue than the females. They live in meadows and open woodlands throughout the eastern United States, feasting on insects and berries. The male bluebird finds a nest site in a hole in a tree or nest box and entices a female to build her nest of grasses, pine needles, feathers and sometimes horsehair. They often have more than one brood a year in these cozy nests. Spring chicks tend to head out on their own in the summer, but chicks from later broods will often stay with their mothers through the winter.
The Purple Finch of New Hampshire
In 1957 the purple finch was designated as the representative of New Hampshire. The juveniles and females resemble a large chunky house finch with a thicker conical bill, but as the males mature their feathers transform into a bright raspberry color. They gather in large groups and subsist mostly on seeds, showing a marked preference for black sunflower seeds. Their larger beaks help them to crush these seeds to get at the nut withinThese finches tend to be territorial and can be somewhat aggressive. The females tend to be the victors in disputes with males. Although the purple finch is categorized as a species of “least concern” when it comes to conservation there has been a significant decline in population between 1966 and present day, somewhere to the tune of 46%.
New Mexico’s Greater Roadrunner
New Mexico’s choice for state bird, the greater roadrunner, is a hardy bird able not just to survive in the harsh deserts of the southwest United States, but to thrive there. These two foot long birds with slender legs can run up to 15 miles per hour and will eat just about anything that they can catch, which includes rattlesnakes. They are just as much a predatory bird as the average raptor, hunting and consuming not only insects, reptiles and small rodents, but sometimes even snatching other birds out of nesting boxes and backyard bird feeders. The greater roadrunner has been known to hunt cooperatively with others of its kind when hunting large or evasive prey. Roadrunners have long been associated with protection by the Native American tribes in the region and their distinct x shaped tracks are believed to hide them from evil spirits by concealing which direction they are going in.
The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of Oklahoma
This slender grey songbird was chosen as the state representative of Oklahoma in 1951, and is a boon to any place that it chooses to roost in or migrate through. Their diet consists almost exclusively on insects that can harm crop production, such as beetles, crickets and grasshoppers, which it either snatches off of vegetation or catches midflight. Although the scissor-like tail is it’s most obvious feature, sometimes reaching lengths twice as long as the bird’s body, the bright salmon colored patches under their wings are also striking when they are in flight. They often gather in flocks a thousand or more strong and roost near towns and cities. The nests of flycatchers are often lined with man made materials. A study done in urban Texas found materials such as cigarette filters, cloth, paper and carpet fuzz made up nearly 30% of the weight of the nests that were examined. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, like other varieties of kingbirds, can be fiercely territorial and will chase off even hawks and vultures to protect their nests.
Pennsylvania’s Ruffed Grouse
Pennsylvania choose the hardy ruffed grouse to be their state bird in 1931. The ruffed grouse is well suited to severe winters and successfully survive winters that can cause great concern for quail, pheasants and turkeys. In the winter the grouse grow projections off the sides of their feet like combs which are designed to help them walk across the snow like snowshoes. They are a dappled reddish brown that can be difficult to spot and they are often heard before seen. The males will display by standing on a log, stone or mound of dirt and quickly rotating his wings backwards and forwards in a manner that causes a loud thumping sound that some people equate with the sound of a starting car. This drumming is to communicate his location to mates and also to trespassers of his territory, which is usually quite large, a six to ten acre piece of woodland he shares with one or two hens. During the winter they subsist on buds and catkins and can often be found searching for these in tree branches, but during the summer they have a more varied diet of insects, fruit seeds, and even small frogs and snakes.