If you live in the United States, you may know that each state has its own unique official bird. Some of these birds are pretty cool and unique, like the Bald Eagle, so you may have heard of them. But what about the other 99% of the state birds? Do you know which ones they are and why they are considered important to the state’s identity? Let’s take a look shall we?
Who is the State Bird?
As mentioned above, each state in America has its own unique bird that serves as the symbol of the state. This bird is referred to as the ‘state bird’ and can be found throughout most of the country. You may recognize some of these birds, as they tend to be pretty common and easy to identify. The California Condor is the state bird of California, for example, and can be often spotted soaring above the state’s majestic Redwood forests. Other popular state birds include the Arizona Cardinals, Maryland’s bird (no, not that one), and—of course—the Texas Longhorn.
Each one of these birds has a special story as to how they came to be the state bird of their state. Let’s take a quick look at how the Texas Longhorn became the state bird of Texas.
The Longhorn Comes From Mexico
Even before Texas became an independent country in 1845, the Longhorn was considered the state animal of Texas. Accounts from the 1800s indicate that the American frontier inhabitants of Texas would wear horns on their heads when they went into battle. They would attach dog heads to the tips of their rifles to frighten and confuse the enemy. When the rifles were discharged, the echoes would frighten and disorient the Indians, making it easier for the Texan soldiers to fight. This ritual of the ‘dogging’ of the Longhorn went on for many years, and it wasn’t until 1914 that modern-day customs were officially banned by the government.
This is not to say that hunting down and killing wild animals is wrong. In fact, Texas is one of the most popular states for hunting, and it is considered a ‘destination’ state for big game hunters. But the practice of wearing horns was not official, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that the Texas legislature officially declared the Longhorn as the state animal.
The Bald Eagle Wasn’t Always The National Emblem
Now, let’s take a quick look at the history of the bald eagle. You may know that the bald eagle has been chosen as the national emblem of the United States of America since 1782. This bird of prey was actually chosen as such because it is often depicted in a state of peace with its talons tucked neatly behind its head. Prior to this time, the bald eagle was mostly associated with the U.S. military, specifically their use of the bird as a totem for their soldiers.
In the 1770s and 1780s, the bald eagle was widely considered a cowardly bird, and American Indians often referred to it as a ‘laughing war bird’. This meant that it was a bird of prey, but it lacked the courage to attack a human being. Later in the 19th century, ornithologists and wildlife managers believed that by removing the feathers from eagles’ tails, they could make the bird more plump and less able to fly. Some states even started experimenting with introducing chickens into the colonies of bald eagles. Through selective breeding, they hoped that they could increase both the number of eggs that eagles would lay and the size of their offspring. The idea behind this was to create a ‘chicken eagle’, which actually never panned out as expected.
The Cardinals’ Story
The Arizona Cardinals are another of the country’s most popular state birds. This group of birds was originally from New York State, but they soon made their way to Phoenix, where they have since remained. According to local lore, the Aztecs used to worship the cardinal, as it is believed that the bird is associated with the sun and the harvest season. During the early Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Spanish priests carried cardsinals as offerings to the Sun God. In Spanish, the bird was known as the ‘toadbird’, as it was said that whosoever encountered one would surely be cursed with bad luck. The name has stuck ever since, and to this day, the Spanish curse remains in effect in Arizona.
Maryland is the 33rd state in the United States of America. It’s only separated from Pennsylvania by the Delaware River, and it’s only neighbor to the north is Washington DC. The bird officially designated as the state bird of Maryland is called the ‘Maryland turkey’, but it is more commonly known as the ‘blue hen’. This is because of the color of the eggs that the bird lays, as well as the color of the skin on its face. You may be familiar with the song of the blue hen, as it is a very common bird and has been around for a very long time. The blue hen’s life cycle is very similar to that of the ostrich, as it too lays eggs that are a mixture of blue and yellow. These eggs are a favorite of children across the country, as they are considered a ‘happy egg’ and are associated with hospitality.
The Story of The Maryland Turkey
The Maryland turkey is another bird that you may have heard of, as it is often seen at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables across the country. It is only one of 29 recognized subspecies of the domestic turkey, and it was originally from the Levantine region of Northern Africa. The birds were first domesticated in Spain, where they were known as ‘game hens’ or ‘roosters’, as they were usually found strutting around the grounds of Moorish palaces. The Spaniards later brought the birds to Europe, where they were used as a foodstuff and a source of feathers for birds of prey. The birds were first brought to North America in 1620, and it wasn’t until the next year that they were introduced to Maryland. At this time, they were known as the ‘Dutch turkey’ and were often seen as a replacement for wild turkeys, which were becoming endangered. The turkey was soon accepted by the locals, and by 1690, it had spread throughout the state. Its popularity continued to grow after this, and it became known as the ‘Maryland turkey’ or the ‘blue hen.’ The bird’s life cycle is similar to that of the common turkey, and it too lays eggs that are a mixture of white and brown. These eggs are also a favorite of children, as they are associated with hospitality and good luck.
The California-Sagebrush Stalks
Now, let’s take a quick look at the story of the sagebrush. You may know that this is an annual wildflower that is common across the American West. It was originally described by the Spanish, who believed that it was a type of devil weed that grew on hillsides and in wastelands. Later, the English named the plant after Sir Francis Bacon, who was known for his encyclopedic knowledge. Since then, it has been commonly associated with the American West. The plant gets its name from the short, wide stalks that it produces, which are similar in appearance to the bristles on a brush. This was originally used by Native Americans to brush their teeth, as the fibers are considered ‘superior for cleaning ivory and other animal teeth’. In some parts of California, the sagebrush is known as the ‘shiner stalk’, due to the fact that it grows along the banks of lakes and rivers, thus providing beautiful green reflections in the water.