The State birds of the United States. Installment one.
Just about every American citizen is aware that the Bald Eagle is a 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 not the only bird that we use to represent ourselves. The United States of America would be nothing without it's states, and each of them has a bird they hold near and dear to their hearts, so here is a little more information about each of them.
The state bird of Alabama is the yellow shafted northern flicker, commonly referred to as the yellowhammer. This unusual woodpecker is the only woodpecker on this list and was named the official bird of Alabama in 1927. Unlike most woodpeckers the northern flicker feeds mainly on ants and beetles off the ground rather than the insects and grubs in diseased and dying trees. The yellowhammer is a small brown bird with black markings, with a red patch at the nape of its neck and its wings are lined with yellow. The red shafted flicker further to the west looks much like the yellow shafted flicker, but with a black nape patch and red lined wings. The male northern flicker is distinguished from the female by the mustache on the sides of his face, black for the yellowhammer, and red for his western cousin.
Alaska's Willow Ptarmigan
In 1955 the willow ptarmigan was named the official state bird of Alaska. Ptarmigans are a variety of grouse which change their coloration from greys and browns during the summer months to predominantly white in the winter months. The willow ptarmigan is the most widespread variety of this type of grouse in the state of Alaska, with the other two native ptarmigans being the white-tailed and rock ptarmigans. Ptarmigans dine mostly on vegetation, but do supplement their diets with insects and worms on occasion. Although monogamy is often observed in all varieties of the ptarmigans, only the willow ptarmigan sticks around to help raise the chicks.
The Cactus Wren of Arizona
Arizona officially recognized the inconspicuous looking cactus wren as their state bird in 1931. These brown and white wrens are the largest of the wren family at between seven and nine inches long and are a natural desert bird. They do not require standing water to survive, instead getting all of their hydration from the fruit and insects that they eat. They are known for building both their breeding nest and their roosting nests amongst large cactus thorns to protect them from predators. They are fiercely territorial of these nests and the surrounding area. Not only do they mob any animal that comes within their range, they will also destroy the nests and eggs of any other birds nearby.
Northern Mockingbird, the choice of Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas
Between 1927 and 1944 five states chose the northern mockingbird to represent their states; Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas all recognized this ordinary looking but remarkable bird as their state bird. The little greyish brown bird is a consummate singer and imitator. The males sing from February until early November, often switching repertoires around the change of seasons from from summer to fall. They not only sing their own tunes, but they also borrow up to 200 other tunes and sounds, including sounds mimicking other birds, insects, frogs and occasionally even the sounds of machinery. They are one of the only birds to sing at night as well as during the day. The females also sing, but usually only during spring days, leaving both the nighttime and the fall singing to the males.
In 1931 the California quail was designated as the state bird of California. These hardy and adaptable little birds are commonly seen throughout the western United States, scratching at the ground in search of vegetation to eat and roosting in low trees and bushes. They are a blue grey color and about the size of a small but plump pigeon, with the signature topknot of six overlapping feathers that all quail have. Both genders start out rather plainly colored, but the male birds develop distinctive white stripes outlining their stark black faces. The California quails gather together in large coveys until breeding season when they break off into pairs of up to 28 eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the quails join up with other broods and the parents of all the broods join together in raising the young.
Colorado's Lark Bunting
In 1931 the state of Colorado chose the lark bunting to represent their state. Lark buntings forage on the ground searching for fruit and insects to eat, and evading local predators like house cats. The lark bunting is a greyish-brown sparrow with darker stripes and a white patch on the wings. When the breeding season the male makes a drastic transformation into a jet black bird, keeping only the white patch on the wings. These males are often seen shooting straight up into the air from the crowded breeding grounds and then back down to their perches, in an effort to impress the nearby females.
American Robin, the favorite of Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin
Michigan chose the American robin as the official state bird in 1931, followed by Connecticut in 1943 and Wisconsin in 1949. The American robin is a well known North American songbird of the thrush family. Their signature red chests make them easy to spot throughout the North America, they are at least a part time resident in every state except Hawaii. You can find them searching for fruit, insects and earthworms in forests, woodlands, parks, pastures, tundra, and even your own front yard. American robins are often the first birds to start singing their pleasant tunes in the spring, making them the iconic harbingers of spring. Each year the American robin lays one to three clutches of three to five “robin’s egg blue” eggs which the females care for.
The Fighting Blue Hens of Delaware
Delaware’s state bird is not a recognized species, in fact it is only one of three state birds that is not a native to the United States, but there is a deep historical meaning behind the choice. The Delaware’s blue fighting hen has a history that goes back to 1776. In this day and age cockfighting is looked down upon, but in the late 1700’s it was a popular sport. During the Revolutionary war, there was a captain, Captain Johnathan Caldwell of Kent county, and he brought with him chickens that he stated were the brood of a famous “blue hen chicken” which he used to fight when the troops were not busy fighting their own enemies. The chickens that Captain Caldwell brought with him were great fighters, much like Captain Caldwell’s troops were. In time they were compared to one another, and Captain Caldwell’s troops earned the nickname of the “Fighting blue hens”. This led Delaware to recognize this unusually brave but ferocious chicken as it’s state bird in 1939.
Georgia's Brown Thrasher
The brown thrasher is the state bird of Georgia, named so in 1970. It is a large red-brown bird that is almost a foot in length and closely related to the northern mockingbird. Like the mockingbird, they tend to have an exceptional range of melodies to grace us with. Unlike their cousin, they are shy and secretive except when they are defending their nests. Both the male and the female incubate the eggs and provide for the young. Until the fledglings are old enough to make their own way, which happens as early as nine days after they hatch, both parents defend the vulnerable nest fiercely. These thrashers strike hard enough to draw blood from people and dogs when defending their nests and are a common “foster” parent for the notorious brown-headed cowbird.