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There’s something truly magical about birds. Maybe it’s their gravity-defying acrobatics, their sweet birdsong or their predatory habits, but birds have long captured our imaginations. Even though hundreds of native and introduced species swoop across the United States, some bird species hold a particularly special spot in the hearts of American citizens and have achieved official state status. (And one special bird, the Bald Eagle, was beloved enough to be named the American National Bird, way back in 1782.) Whether you’re an avid ornithologist or just like sitting on the back porch and listening to birdsong, fly away with us as we get to know the official bird of every state.
Alabama: Northern Flicker (Yellowhammer)
The Northern Flicker, also known as a Yellowhammer, has long been associated with Alabama. The only woodpecker on the list of state birds, the Northern Flicker thrives throughout this southern state. Alabama’s association with the bird was solidified during the Civil War, when Alabama soldiers were nicknamed “Yellowhammers” for their uniforms, which featured a yellow cloth at the sleeves. But the Northern Flicker isn’t the only recognized state bird in Alabama. The wild turkey was designated the official state game bird in 1980, which makes sense as Alabama has the largest per-acre population of wild turkeys in the U.S.
Alaska: Willow Ptarmigan
A type of Arctic grouse, the Willow Ptarmigan thrives in Alaska’s snowy terrain thanks to its color-changing abilities. The bird’s feathers shift with the seasons, changing from light brown to snow white for effective camouflage. These birds roost together in snow burrows during the winter, and are well-suited to the cold weather that drives other birds south.
Arizona: Cactus Wren
Humans tend to avoid the sharp jabs of a cactus, but the cactus wren is quite comfortable atop a spiky, 10-foot saguaro. The largest wren in North America, this bird builds its nest in cactus plants like saguaros and yucca, using the spikes as natural protection for their home. Comfortable in the arid desert, the Cactus Wren gets most of its hydration from food, and is distinguished from other birds by its loud call.
Arkansas: Northern Mockingbird
Arkansas isn’t the only state that honors the Northern Mockingbird — it’s also the state bird of Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and Mississippi. These songbirds are known for their ceaseless singing and their unique ability to mimic different sounds, from other bird calls to car horns and dog barks. In fact, a single male can produce up to 200 different songs.
California: California Quail
With a bobbing feather plume atop its head and a round, plump body, the California Quail is deceptively quick. These birds spend most of their life on the ground, their fast feet carrying them from place to place — though they have been known to rapidly burst into flight to escape danger. Males have a distinct topknot of feathers, and they travel in groups called coveys.
Colorado: Lark Bunting
With jet-black feathers and distinctive white patches, mating male Lark Buntings stick out in the dry grasslands of Colorado. But good luck picking out their female counterparts, which are streaked brown and often difficult to distinguish from other birds. You’ll have to rely on your ear, as “skylarking” males sing a pretty song.
Connecticut: American Robin
The iconic American Robin is also the state bird of Wisconsin and Michigan. A type of thrush, the Robin is no stranger to suburban backyards across the country. Singing melodic songs, the Robin is recognizable for its warm orange breast that helps it stand out when it migrates home at the end of winter.
Delaware: Blue Hen Chicken
Though not an official breed, the Blue Hen Chicken has been a symbol of Delaware since the Revolutionary War. It’s a strain of the American gamecock that’s specially bred for its blue-grey feathers. Despite not being a full breed, the Blue Hen Chicken is still a Delaware symbol, and serves as the mascot for University of Delaware’s "fightin' Blue Hens."
Florida: Northern Mockingbird
The Northern Mockingbird makes its second (though not last) appearance on the list as the state bird of Florida. Mockingbird is a broad term, and there are 16 species throughout the world. But only the Northern Mockingbird is native to the U.S. Fun fact: The Mockingbird's latin name is “Mimus polyglottos,” which literally means “many-tongued mimic.”
Georgia: Brown Thrasher
True to its name, the Brown Thrasher has a distinctive brown pattern of feathers and piercing yellow eyes. This bird lives in tangled thickets and messy shrubbery throughout central and eastern North America. A secretive bird, the Brown Thrasher is tricky to spot, but stray too close to its nest and you’ll encounter its fiercely aggressive defense mode. Like mockingbirds, the Brown Thrasher has a distinctive song and the ability to mimic other species.
Hawaii may take the prize for most unique bird on the list. The Nene is a type of goose descended from the Canadian goose, but this endangered species is one of the rarest of its kind. Named for its gentle call, Nene are considered guardians of the land in Hawaiian culture.
Idaho: Mountain Bluebird and Peregrine Falcon
Idaho honors two different birds with state designations. The first (and official) state bird is the Mountain Bluebird (pictured above), a small thrush that thrives in the open spaces of the West. True to its name, males are a rich blue color while females are greyish-brown with a streak of blue in their wings.
The peregrine falcon serves as the state’s official raptor. This intense predator is one of the largest falcons on the continent, with an impressive wingspan of up to 43 inches. Distinctive for their steely looks and hooked yellow beak, they can reach up to 200 miles per hour in a dive, making them one of the fastest birds in the world.
Illinois: Northern Cardinal
One of the most recognizable birds on the list, the Northern Cardinal is also one of the most popular, serving as the state bird of seven different states. With a striking red and black color pattern, these small birds are often spotted in backyards and frequenting bird feeders. If you do spot these iconic red feathers, know that you’re seeing a male — the females are an attractive brownish color with streaks of red.
Indiana: Northern Cardinal
The Northern Cardinal makes a quick return to the list as the state bird of Illinois’ eastern neighbor, Indiana. It’s no surprise this bird is so popular — it is even very social among other birds, often joining other flocks until mating season. And unlike most other birds, both males and females can rip off a quick tune.
Iowa: American Goldfinch
Also known as the Eastern Goldfinch, the American Goldfinch is a bright spot on the landscape thanks to its yellow feathering. This bird has several distinctive calls, including a “po-ta-to-chip” call. Expert fliers, these birds bob and weave through the sky in search of seeds.
Kansas: Western Meadowlark
With a bright yellow chest and distinct call, the Western Meadowlark is a symbol of the West. Closely related to the Eastern Meadowlark, the Western bird stands out for its unique song, a low flute-like call. You’ll find Western Meadowlark nests close to the ground, where they can easily access their diet of mostly insects and seeds.
Kentucky: Northern Cardinal
Welcome back to the Northern Cardinal. Making its third appearance on the list, the bright-red bird is an active singer, with multiple songs to its repertoire. In addition to being honored by states, the Cardinal is also the mascot of several professional sports teams, from the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals to the MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals.
Louisiana: Brown Pelican
Appropriately enough, Louisiana’s Brown Pelican is an aquatic bird, drifting low over coastal regions and plunging into the water in search of fish. This large bird has a long, thick bill with an expandable pouch they use to hold fish in. They nest in colonies along the Gulf Coast, though they’ve also been found on the Pacific Coast. Notably, this pelican is a conservation success story. Endangered thanks to the use of pesticides like DDT, the species began to bounce back after the ban on such substances in 1972.
Maine: Black-Capped Chickadee
Short and stout, the Black-Capped Chickadee is a curious little bird that’s fairly unafraid of humans, making it a popular presence at feeders in backyards across the North. Marked by a black head and bib, these Chickadees are also recognizable for their complex calls which function almost like a language.
Maryland: Baltimore Oriole
The bird behind the state’s MLB team, the Baltimore Oriole is deeply ingrained in Maryland iconography. In fact, the songbird’s rich orange and black colors make an appearance on the state flag and seal. Listed as a protected migratory bird since 1882, the Oriole frequents Maryland’s parks and suburban areas.
Massachusetts: Black-Capped Chickadee
Making its second appearance on the list, the Black-Capped Chickadee is found in deep forests throughout the northern part of the U.S. and into Canada. This monogamous bird is a romantic, mating for life in a true partnership — females build the nest, while males feed the females during nest building and brooding.
Michigan: American Robin
The American Robin is the state bird of Michigan, as well as Connecticut and Wisconsin, and is the most widespread thrush in North America, thanks to its ease in adapting to suburban backyards. More than 120 birds around the world are named "robin," but the American Robin is more closely related to bluebirds than the European Robins for which they were named.
Minnesota: Common Loon
A vocal bird, the common loon is known for its yodel-like cries that echo across its watery habitats. The large black-and-white birds have distinct red eyes, which make them easy to recognize. They often travel alone, and make their summer homes in the lakes of Minnesota, using their moaning calls to claim their nesting territory.
Mississippi: Northern Mockingbird
Mississippi is one of five states that recognizes the Northern Mockingbird as its state bird. This mimicking bird not only imitates other birds, songs, and man-made machines — one study showed it could even imitate certain frogs and toads. But this famed vocal talent made the mockingbird a target for illegal trade back in the day. In addition to the mockingbird, Mississippi also recognizes the Wood Duck as its official state waterfowl.
Missouri: Eastern Bluebird
The Eastern Bluebird is the most widespread of the three types of bluebirds in North America, its range extending all the way south to Nicaragua. Unafraid of humans, these bluebirds are often attracted to birdhouses in suburban backyards. With a melodious whistle and attractive coloring, it’s not difficult to see why these birds have so endeared themselves to humans. In addition to the bluebird, Missouri has designated the Bobwhite Quail as its official game bird.
Montana: Western Meadowlark
The Mountain state of Montana is one of five states that has designated the Western Meadowlark as its official bird. Chosen by schoolchildren to represent the spirit of Montana, the Meadowlark was, according to lore, first recorded by native Montanan Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Nebraska: Western Meadowlark
This songbird sure is popular, making another appearance on the list as Nebraska’s state bird. This ground forager is closely related to the blackbird, but is distinguished by its yellow chest and black, V-shaped markings. An omnivore, the Meadowlark will dine on a variety of insects and seeds.
Nevada: Mountain Bluebird
The Mountain Bluebird makes the list again, this time making its home in Nevada’s high country. Female Mountain Bluebirds are the workers, building the nest, while males pretend to help, often mimicking assistance or else picking up building materials and dropping them along the way.
New Hampshire: Purple Finch
Despite its name, Purple Finch males are more of a raspberry red color, while females have streaked brown coloring. Don’t be fooled by its size: This small, round bird possesses a powerful beak that’s useful for breaking seeds. A migratory bird, you’ll find the Purple Finch singing a rich warbling song along the Pacific Coast and in the North.
New Jersey: American Goldfinch
The American Goldfinch is another bird that is honored by multiple states. Also known as a Wild Canary or Eastern Goldfinch, this bright yellow and black bird swoops through the air and perches high on plants. Its colorful feathers don’t come easy — the American Goldfinch is the only member of the finch family that sheds all its feathers twice a year.
New Mexico: Greater Roadrunner
Though we mostly associate birds with the air, some prefer to stick closer to the ground. So is the story of the Greater Roadrunner, the state bird of New Mexico. This quick-footed creature inhabits the arid deserts of the Southwest. Although it is capable of flight, it opts to run on long legs, reaching 15 miles per hour when pursuing prey like insects and reptiles. Beep beep!
New York: Eastern Bluebird
Ever-iconic, bluebirds have inspired poetry, music, painting, and other forms of art — maybe that’s why they keep appearing as state birds. As one of the first birds to return north after winter, they are harbingers of spring, signaling the start of warmer days. The medium-sized songbird is typically easy to spot, both for its blue and red feathers and its warbling song.
North Carolina: Northern Cardinal
Another popular state bird, the Northern Cardinal appears yet again as the state bird of North Carolina. Many of the Cardinal’s songs are recognizable, such as its “cheer cheer cheer” whistle. And unlike other birds, they sing year-round, and females sing when sitting on their nests, though their songs tend to be more elaborate than male songs.
North Dakota: Western Meadowlark
Up again on the list, the Western Meadowlark is the state bird of North Dakota (as well as Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, and Wyoming). Unlike many other species, both male and female Meadowlarks have the iconic yellow breast, making it difficult to differentiate between the genders. They are also difficult to distinguish from their Eastern counterparts, though Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame) noted differences in their tails and beaks.
Ohio: Northern Cardinal
Cardinals appear another time on the list, this time as Ohio’s state bird. Despite sharing state status among seven different states, the Cardinal itself is a monogamous bird, dedicating itself to one partner throughout its life. Sometimes they can go through a “divorce” and seek out a more ideal mate, but generally the pairs stick together, eventually joining flocks during winter migration.
Oklahoma: Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher
A graceful bird with a creative name, the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher sweeps across the Great Plains in the summer. Recognizable for its unique split tail feathers, which can be twice as long as its body, the Flycatcher is stunning in flight. The flier is also deadly and consumes harmful insects like grasshoppers, beetles, and wasps, making them highly valued by farmers in the region. Oklahoma also recognizes the wild turkey as its official state game bird.
Oregon: Western Meadowlark
Six states recognize the Western Meadowlark as their official bird, making it the second most popular state bird after the Northern Cardinal, which has ultimate bragging rights, with seven states. The brown, yellow, and black bird thrives in grasslands across the country, consuming grain-eating insects like grasshoppers and crickets.
Pennsylvania: Ruffed Grouse
Certainly one of the fanciest birds to make the list of state birds, the Ruffed Grouse is one of 10 species of grouse native to North America. These medium-sized birds feature an impressive collection of feathers, which males will puff up impressively as they put on a show for females. These birds typically stick close to the ground, and thrive in cold winter snow conditions. While they do make sounds, the males are best known for “drumming,” a sound made by beating wings against the air to alert nearby females to their presence.
Rhode Island: Rhode Island Red
The second chicken to make the list, the Rhode Island Red is a breed of domestic chicken known for its russet feathers. These hens are adaptable to many different environments, making them the go-to breed for anyone interested in owning chickens. Additionally, they are well-known for producing eggs year-round, and can lay up to 300 eggs a year.
South Carolina: Carolina Wren
The tiny Carolina Wren is a rotund, reddish brown bird with a long tail and dark bill. Found mainly in vegetated areas, you’ll hear this bird singing out its “tweedle” song long before you see it. The Carolina Wren wasn’t always the state bird of South Carolina, however — it replaced the Mockingbird in 1942, though both species are still protected by the state. Like many other states, South Carolina also recognizes the wild turkey as its state game bird.
South Dakota: Ring-Necked Pheasant
The Ring-Necked Pheasant is a striking bird that was introduced to North America from Asia in the 1880s. Males have rich coloration, with emerald green heads, coppery bodies, and a long tail, while females are a more subdued brown. They spend most of their time foraging in rural territory, hiding in harvested fields and only taking flight when a predator strays too close.
Tennessee: Northern Mockingbird
The Northern Mockingbird is back, this time as the state bird of Tennessee. The prolific singer has been a staple in American pop culture, from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Hunger Games. They’re found across the United States, and use their mimicking abilities to attract potential mates. But they don’t just imitate sounds; they also have a range of Mockingbird-unique songs to serenade potential partners. Tennessee also recognizes the Bobwhite Quail as its official state game bird.
Texas: Northern Mockingbird
Making its last appearance on the list, the Northern Mockingbird is also the state bird of Texas (as well as Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee). Their sweet songs hide a fiery personality, and these aggressive defenders will fight to protect their nests. This is partly why this scrappy bird is so beloved in Texas. The Texas legislature even calls the Mockingbird “a singer of distinctive type, a fighter for the protection of his home, falling, if need be, in its defense, like any true Texan ..."
Utah: California Gull
Despite being named after the Golden State, the California Gull is designated as the official state bird of Utah. But don’t be fooled by Utah’s lack of seashore — these acrobatic birds have a strong tie to this state. The story goes that this sea gull saved early Utah pioneers by eating the crickets that decimated their crops. There’s even a monument to this bird in Salt Lake City.
Vermont: Hermit Thrush
Though it may not look it, the short and stout Hermit Thrush is a hardy fellow, sticking around well into the winter when other birds have left for warmer climates. Found in low forested areas, this brown thrush has a lovely, melancholic song that reverberates through the trees morning and night.
Virginia: Northern Cardinal
The Northern Cardinal is back again, this time as the state bird of Virginia. The bird is known for its striking crimson coloring, which inspired their name — early European settlers found the red color reminded them of the robes worn by Catholic cardinals. However, Cardinals aren’t always red. Females are reddish brown, and cross breeding with other Cardinal species sometimes yields different colors. Plus, some males can go bald as part of their molting cycle, though they typically recover their plumage quickly.
Washington: American Goldfinch
Also known as the Willow Goldfinch and Eastern Goldfinch, this bright yellow bird had a long road to becoming Washington’s state bird. The Goldfinch faced competition from the Meadowlark, which was the clear favorite of Washington children. However, the Meadowlark was already the state bird of several other states, so the Washington legislature chose the spiffy golden bird that frequents many bird feeders throughout the state.
West Virginia: Northern Cardinal
Making its last of seven appearances on this list, the popular Northern Cardinal is the state bird of West Virginia. The red bird beat out several other contenders for state bird, winning by more than 11,000 votes. These bright birds have their diet to thank for their striking color — carotenoids ingested from seeds and berries contribute to their crimson appearance.
Wisconsin: American Robin
This classic American songbird was a popular choice for Wisconsin’s state bird — it received twice as many votes than the runner-up. The phrase, “The early bird gets the worm” just might be referring to American Robins, as they consume a diet of earthworms and berries, and are very active before and after sunrise. The robin isn’t the only bird recognized by the state, however. Wisconsin designated the Mourning Dove its official state symbol of peace.
Wyoming: Western Meadowlark
You made it! Making its sixth and final appearance on the list is the Western Meadowlark. These yellow-breasted birds are common throughout the open West, though you’ll rarely find them at feeders. They tend to be wary of humans, and prefer to forage for their food in low scrubland.