The State Birds of the United States. Installment Two.
Most American citizens are 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 not the only bird to represent the American people. This country has 50 states that bring it together, and each of those 50 states has also chosen a bird to represent them.
Hawaiian Nene Goose
The island of Hawaii named the nene goose their signature bird in 1957. The nene is an unusual goose, native only to the volcanic islands of our 50th state. It’s closest living relative is the canada goose, and it also has a dark face with a grey brown body and long white neck. The white neck of the nene is marked by striking black streaks and the black is confined to the face itself, instead of extending down past their cheeks. These unconventional geese are not big on either swimming or flying, preferring to live in large grassland and scrubland areas in the Hawaiian islands. Consequentially, their wings are weaker than many other birds, however they have developed feet with less webbing and longer toes. This particular difference from other waterfowl also makes them well suited for climbing on and around the volcanic mountainsides found throughout Hawaii.
Mountain Bluebird of Idaho and Nevada
Idaho designated the mountain bluebird as their state bird in 1931, followed by Nevada in 1967. Mountain bluebirds are a type of thrush who get their name from the bright blue color of the male bluebird, but it seems the females are not particularly swayed by the vivid coloration. It seems that the determining factor for the sensible females is the quality of the nesting cavity that he has found for his potential mate. During mating season the male bluebird makes a great show of gathering nesting materials, however it is just a show, and they either drop what materials that they find or simply pantomime the activity even though they don’t actually have nesting materials to contribute. The females are less brightly colored than their male counterparts, with either a light gray or lighter blue coloration, and it is they who build the nests. Once the eggs are laid the male of the species becomes an attentive mate, ensuring that the female and any hatchlings have plenty of berries and insects to keep them strong and healthy.
The Cardinal of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia
In 1929 the bright cardinal was chosen to be the state bird by the schoolchildren of Illinois, but they were not the only ones to be enchanted by this particular backyard bird. The cardinal is also the state bird of Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia, making it the most popular choice for state bird. This brightly colored but aggressive bird is a striking avian with a pronounced crest and thick beak. The female is a light brown or yellow color with bright red accents on her wings and tail and a distinctive black face; the male also has the black face but has a conspicuous red head and body. Both genders are often seen during the spring months attacking their own reflections in pretty much anything with a reflective surface. The cardinal tends to sing year round, unlike most other songbirds. During the breeding season the female has two to three clutches of eggs, although after the first ten days or so she is known to leave the care taking up to the male so she can go lay a new clutch of eggs.
The American Goldfinch of Iowa, New Jersey and Washington
Iowa was the first state to claim the American goldfinch as their state bird in 1933, they were not however the last state to recognize the American goldfinch to represent their state. New Jersey in 1935 and Washington in 1951 also decided that the American goldfinch was the bird that best symbolized their states. These seed eating little birds love garden birdfeeders and avoid eating insects of any sort. They tend to remain in large flocks much longer than other species, not splitting off into pairs to nest until late June or early July and therefore only generally raise one clutch per season. During the winter months both genders of birds are gray with yellowish highlights and white bars on their wings, but in spring that grey turns to a bright sunshine yellow for the males.
The Western Meadowlark of Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming
Between 1927 and 1947 Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming all decided that the best bird to represent their state was the western meadowlark. Both eastern and western meadowlarks are about the size of an american robin, although their chest coloration is a bright yellow rather than the red orange of the robin, and marked with a distinctive black v shape. They can be found searching for seeds and insects in grassy areas and along the edges of marshlands in much of the western and midwestern United States. During the breeding season the males will generally split their time between two mates, which leaves the females to handle the incubation of the eggs and the raising of the chicks. Although there are subtle differences in beak and wing shape between the two meadowlarks, the western meadowlark is best distinguished from it’s eastern counterpart by it’s more complex and flutelike song.
Louisiana- The Pelican State
Louisiana chose a bird as unique as itself to be its avian symbol, which is featured proximately on both the state flag and the state seal. The brown pelican is the only known pelican that is not predominantly white, instead they are a very large grey brown bird with expandable throat pouches that they use to catch fish. Most pelicans just scoop up fish that are swimming in shallow areas or near the surface. The brown pelican however, dives down on its prey from up to 50 feet in the air and snares it in its bill. Catching the fish isn’t always a guarantee of a meal however as seagulls have been known to steal fish right out of a pelicans pouch. The brown pelican was selected because Eastern European settlers noticed the big seabirds nurturing behavior toward their young. Their dedication to their eggs, which they incubate with their large webbed feet, was unfortunately a detriment to them during the mid twentieth century when pesticides using DDT caused thinning to the shells of the eggs they were guarding, which caused them to crack under their doting parents weight. Their population has increased greatly since the use of DDT was restricted.
The Black-Capped Chickadee of Maine and Massachusetts
The black-capped chickadee chosen by Maine and Massachusetts is a common sight throughout the northern United States. A tiny but energetic little bird which was named for its namesake call which, with tiny variations, can act as an alarm call, informational call or a contact call. The chickadee call is often recognized by other birds that associate with the chickadees, even if they don’t have a similar call. They have a large head for its body, emphasized by the distinctive black cap of feathers on its head, and a small conical beak. Although they are frequently found at backyard birdfeeders they usually prefer their own nesting holes to birdhouses or breeding boxes. Sometimes chickadees can be fooled into thinking that a birdhouse or breeding box is a more traditional nesting hole by filling the bottom of the structure with sawdust that they have to remove.