Are America’s state birds unique to their particular state?



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    America’s State Birds, and How They Overlap

    Quick, now – what’s your state bird?

    OK – I’ll go first.

    As a Pennsylvanian, my state bird is the ruffed grouse, which the state legislature selected in 1931. Being as how the ruffed grouse is, well, Pennsylvania’s bird, one would expect its population distribution to stay pretty closely within the state’s borders. Not so.

    Using information from eBird, a website that amalgamates information from many different bird tracking database, I’ve found that over the past five years, the ruffed grouse has appeared in many states other than Pennsylvania. It’s been seen in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the entire northeastern United States. It may be Pennsylvania’s state bird, then, but it’s certainly not unique to Pennsylvania.

    In the rest of this story, I’ll be explaining how the other 49 state birds overlap into states other than their own, using eBird as well as other online sources. Let’s go bird watching!

    The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic

    Connecticut: The American robin (1943) has an apt name. It has been seen throughout the entire continental United States.

    Maine and Massachusetts: If you divided the entire continental United States into “north” and “south” halves, you’d only find the black-capped chickadee (1927 for Maine; 1941 for Massachusetts) in the north half. It is most heavily concentrated in the Northeastern United States.

    New Hampshire: The purple finch (1957) can be found on the West Coast, the Northeast, the Southeast and the Midwest. For some reason, it completely ignores the states in the Rocky Mountains.

    New Jersey: The eastern (or American) goldfinch (1935) can be found in the entire continental United States. It is most prevalent in the northeastern and mid-western states.

    New York: The eastern bluebird (1970) can be found in all of the continental United States that lie east of the Rocky Mountains. It has most frequently been seen in the southeastern and mid-western United States.

    Ohio: Ohio’s state bird, the northern cardinal (1933), can be found in very high frequency in all states east of the Rocky Mountains. It has also been seen in Hawaii and the southern portion of Arizona.

    Pennsylvania: As already stated, my state bird, the ruffed grouse (selected in 1931) appears in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the northeastern U.S.

    Rhode Island and Delaware: Both of these states have their own special breeds of chicken – the Rhode Island Red (1954), and the Blue Hen of Delaware (1939). Each is unique to their home state.

    Vermont: The hermit thrush (1941) has an odd distribution. It can be found in almost all the continental United States, as well as Alaska. But it almost never shows up in the following six states: the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana and Wyoming.

    The South and Southeast

    Alabama: The yellowhammer or “northern flicker” (1927) can be found throughout the eastern United States.

    Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi. Tennessee, Texas: The northern mockingbird (1944) has been frequently seen in almost every member of the United States. It is least common in the Pacific Northwest, Montana and Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Minnesota. All of these states list the northern mockingbird as their state bird. Arkansas adopted this bird in 1929; Florida adopted it in 1927; Mississippi adopted it in 1944; Tennessee adopted it in 1933; Texas adopted it in 1927.

    Georgia: The brown thrasher (1928) has been seen in just about every state east of the Rocky Mountains.

    Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia: All of these states share a state bird – the northern cardinal. Kentucky adopted this bird in 1942; North Carolina adopted it in 1943; Virginia adopted it in 1950; West Virginia adopted it in 1949.

    Louisiana: The eastern brown pelican (1966) is exclusively found in the southeastern states and eastern states (running up to New Jersey) that touch the Atlantic Ocean.

    Maryland: The Baltimore oriole (1947) can be found in all states east of the Rocky Mountains. It is more prevalent north of the Mason-Dixon line.

    South Carolina: The Carolina wren (1948) is heavily concentrated in a specific rectangle of states. The eastern and southern borders of this rectangle are the Atlantic Ocean. The western border is Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska; the northern border is Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

    The Midwest

    Illinois and Indiana: Both of these states share a state bird – the northern cardinal. Illinois adopted this bird in 1928, while Indiana did so in 1933.

    Iowa: Like New Jersey, Iowa adopted its state bird, the eastern (or American) goldfinch, in 1933.

    Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota: Both of these states have claimed the western meadowlark as their state bird. Kansas adopted this bird in 1933; Nebraska adopted it in 1929; North Dakota did so in 1970.

    Michigan: Like Connecticut, Michigan has claimed the American robin as its state bird. It did so in 1931.

    Minnesota: The common loon (1961) can be found in almost the entire continental United States. It is much less prevalent in the western and southwestern states.

    Missouri: Like New York, Missouri has adopted the eastern bluebird as its state bird. It did so in 1927.

    Oklahoma: The scissor-tailed flycatcher (1951) can be found in a small bubble of southern states: Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and Louisiana.

    South Dakota: The common pheasant (1943) can be found in the majority of states in America’s north half, as well as Texas and some portions of California and New Mexico. It is most prevalent in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas.

    Wisconsin: Following in the footsteps of Connecticut and Michigan, Wisconsin has claimed the American robin as its state bird. It did so in 1949.

    The West, Northwest and Southwest:

    Arizona: The cactus wren (1973) has been seen in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and a small portion of Utah.

    California: The California quail (1931) has been regularly seen in California, Washington and Oregon; it has less frequently been seen in Idaho, Nevada and Utah.

    Colorado: The lark bunting (1931) has been principally seen in a vertical strip of states that runs from Montana and North Dakota down to Texas and New Mexico.

    Idaho and Nevada: Idaho and Nevada share the same state bird. The mountain bluebird (for Idaho, 1931; for Nevada, 1967) has been seen in all the states west of the Rocky Mountains, as well as in a portion of western Texas. 

    Montana, Oregon, Wyoming: All three of these states have claimed the western meadowlark as their state bird. Montana adopted this bird in 1941; Oregon adopted it in 1927; Wyoming did so in 1927.

    New Mexico: The roadrunner (1949) can be found in a cluster of southern and southwestern states: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

    Utah: A seemingly unfitting choice for state bird, the California gull (1955) can be found in every state west of the Rockies. It is most prevalent in California, Washington and Colorado.

    Washington: In 1951, Washington also adopted the American goldfinch (which it calls the willow goldfinch) as its state bird.

    Alaska and Hawaii

    Alaska: Of all the fifty states, the willow ptarmigan (1955) has only been seen in one – Alaska itself.

    Hawaii: The same is true of the Hawaiian goose (1957), which is unique to Hawaii.


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      Wow. Impressive detail.

    • 0 Votes

      My goodness, thank you so much for this impressive attention to detail! This is one of the most informative/interesting posts I’ve seen on GreenAnswers, so all the time you must have spent answering this was definitely worth it!

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