In 1927, the legislatures of seven states — Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming, and, of course, Maine — decided to designate official “state birds.”
As it turns out, when Maine’s legislators chose the bird to represent us, they weren’t overly concerned with specificity. They chose simply to designate “the chickadee” as Maine’s State Bird…despite the fact that two species of chickadee — the Black-capped and the Boreal — can be found in Maine. (This discrepancy was thoroughly examined last fall by the Portland Press Herald.)
Now, the legislature is considering a bill to clarify the state bird — LD 572, sponsored by Rep. Austin of Skowhegan. In its current form, the bill does not advocate for either species, noting only that it “proposes to specify” one or the other. That discussion will undoubtedly play out during the bill’s hearing, scheduled for February 27.
Maine Audubon isn’t taking a position on which species ought to be the official state bird. (Would you ask a parent to choose their favorite child?) But we are excited to see our policymakers talking and learning about birds, which are some of nature’s most visible, charismatic, and important ambassadors.
In fact, a discussion like this is a great opportunity for all of us to think about the birds of Maine — particularly as climate change spurs shifts in the ranges of many species. What do different bird species mean to you? What do you think they represent about our state? What attributes could different birds bring to the job of “State Bird”?
Many states have tackled these questions differently over the years. Currently, seven states have seen fit to designate the Northern Cardinal as their state bird; six have the Western Meadowlark, and another six have the Northern Mockingbird; there are three American Robins, and two each of the Eastern and Mountain Bluebird. And of course, Massachusetts has the Black-capped Chickadee.
As this conversation continues, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Below, we have listed four different, iconic Maine bird species: The Black-capped Chickadee and the Boreal Chickadee, as well as the Common Loon and the Piping Plover (two species especially dear to Maine Audubon’s heart — see our Maine Loon Project and our Coastal Birds Project).
We’ve provided a few thoughts on what each might bring to the role of State Bird. We’ve also left a blank field for you to enter other species you think have a strong case to make — and a “just leave it alone!” option, too.
What do you think? And more importantly — whatever you think — thank you for thinking about birds!