Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Definitive State Bird Power Ranking pt.1

Last week's bird, Western Meadowlark, and his rivalry with Northern Cardinal got me thinking about state birds. Specifically it got me thinking about how many bad state birds there are. I mean, all birds are pretty good, but you gotta be kidding me with some of these choices. All the more reason, then, to honor the rare really good state birds. So what are the best state birds? The worst? You're about to find out. Birds will be judged on qualities of uniqueness, representation of their state, and general overall birdliness. Of course at amateurnithologist we want to be a resource to you, the blog consumer, and we know that what you really crave is this information delivered via reverse-order listacle. We'll start off with..

29. Ruffled Grouse
State Bird of: Pennsylvania
As much as I love a good grouse, you can't win if you don't play. Pennsylvania is the only state to not declare a state bird. The ruffled grouse is technically their 'State Game Bird', and it's the only representative they put forth. At least it's a good game bird (many other State Game Birds are hackneyed Turkeys), but the implication that the only good thing about birds is shooting them is enough for me to give it the lowest spot on the list.

28. American Robin
State Bird of: Connecticut, Michigan, Wisconsin
You might've noticed that we started at 29 instead of the 50 you might expect. You start to see the origin of this problem here, which is that many states share a state bird. I'm of the opinion that this is unacceptable. Choosing a state bird that was already claimed by another state is an admission of boringness and unawareness of what makes your state unique. And choosing the robin might be the most boring move of all. Aside from their place as harbingers of spring, and their cool blue eggs, they've got basically nothing going for them. They don't even look that cool, which seems to usually be the criteria for these multi-state birds.

27. Western Meadowlark
State Bird of: Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Wyoming
A stunning number of states decided they were best represented by a bird who has neglected right in his name, which is a perfect description for the way in which they handled their state bird naming responsibilities. He's a pretty bird with a nice song, and aside from that there's nothing to say about the Meadowlark. Fascinating only for true madmen who find slight taxonomical distinctions interesting.

26. Northern Cardinal
State Bird of: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia

I will grant you that this is an extremely cool looking bird, which goes a little ways towards explaining his dominant position as the chosen bird of the largest number of states. Still though, the only way 7 states choosing the same bird makes sense is if they weren't allowed to know what the other guys were picking. Imagine the embarrassment of showing up to a wedding in the same dress as someone else, and now imagine it's actually 7 people. But I get it, you wanted a cool looking state bird. The thing is, there's no shortage of attractive, colorful birds that aren't represented at all. Blue Jay? Not a state bird. Painted Bunting? Not a state bird. It boggles the mind.

25. Northern Mockingbird
State Bird of: Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas

I do like a mockingbird. They're clever, they mimic songs and sounds (one on my street does a great car alarm impression), and they have a cool swooping dive they do when looking for a mate. But FIVE STATES thought this was the bird that best represented them? Actually, sorry, it's 6 states, as this is also the former State Bird of South Carolina. Guessing he was involved in some kind of scandal and had to step down. One of the drabbest State Birds in appearance, he only makes it this high for his prominent place in our cultural landscape.

24. Ring-necked Pheasant
State Bird of: South Dakota

Now that we're truly through the most overplayed birds, we get to the interesting questions of what birds best represent their state. Well, we're almost there, since we've got another doesn't-really-count bird from South Dakota. While, yes, I was very excited to get a picture of the Ring-necked Pheasant a few months ago, it's not even a native bird. It's a game bird that was introduced for hunting and farming. How can you be a state bird if you're not native to the state you're representing? This feels like someone asked the governor to name a state bird and he just chose the one he likes to hunt the most.

23. Delaware Blue Hen
State Bird of: Delaware

You get some bonus points for having the name of your state in the bird name for sure. Yet here, near the bottom of the list is where the Delaware Blue Hen falls. It doesn't bother me that it's a chicken, or non-native in origin. Unlike the above-maligned pheasant, at least this bird has his origins in the state in question. And I think it's actually kind of cool to have a chicken for a state bird. The part where the Blue Hen loses me is that it gained its prominance, fame, and adoration primarily as a cockfighting bird. Hey guys, don't make birds fight each other, ok? Honoring the 'fightin' blue hens as the state bird seems like a tacit endorsement of bird fighting, and we're not cool with that here on amateurnithologist.

22. Eastern Goldfinch
State Bird of: New Jersey, Iowa
No one seems to have much to say about the Eastern Goldfinch, and that's because it fits into the large category of small, yellow birds that are a little bit fun to see. Seeing a goldfinch is nice, but lacks substance. It's like eating one potato chip. The seem like completely personality-less birds, or worse, birds with personalities I don't like. The fact that two states chose it as their state bird is a bit baffling to me. I also find it annoying to ID, knocking it down a spot or two.

21. Eastern Goldfinch again
State Bird of: Damn it Washington, how'd you screw this up?
Oh look who it is again, Eastern Goldfinch, aka. American Goldfinch, aka, in this case, Willow Goldfinch. You know what, you can't fool me, you're all the same bird. And I can tell because when I search for you on wikipedia, I get redirected to the American Goldfinch page. Don't try to sneak onto this list twice, Eastern Goldfinch. Even if it is technically a 'subspecies', I won't be fooled. Gets knocked down a spot on the list for this ruse. It was selected in 1951 by school children, which at least goes some way towards explaining why it was chosen so badly.

20. Eastern Bluebird
State Bird of: Missouri, New York

Managed to escape the penalty for being a duplicate for a while, as bluebirds are pretty cool birds. You get a lot of mileage out of being a symbol of happiness and spring. Easy to spot and pleasant to look at, the Eastern Bluebird is a good, but not great, state bird. It does evoke some personality and has a fairly unique coloration among North American birds. This could be much higher on the list if it weren't shared. If I were forced to choose, I'd give this bird to New York and make Missouri choose a new one.

19. Mountain Bluebird
State Bird of: Idaho, Nevada

Yes, it's another bluebird, but I feel like this one gets some bonus points for representing their state via the 'mountain' distinction. Doesn't a mountain bluebird just feel like Nevada? Honestly, to me it feels more like Colorado, but those two choices are fine too. Here we also get into the territory of the extent to which your state bird actually lives in your state, to the exclusion of other places. If you've got a bird that spans the entire country, it's less good by an order of magnitude than a bird that lives only in your state. That, to me, makes the Mountain Bluebird a better bird choice than the Eastern. Still, we're in doubling up territory here, and there's gotta be a penalty for that.

18. Black-capped Chickadee
State Bird of: Maine, Massachusetts
The final bird that double dips. From here on out we've only got states with unique birds (well, sort of, you'll see). The Black-capped Chickadee makes it further than the rest by being very cute. Well, that and it's got a neat trick for surviving the cold winter by dropping its body temperature and going into a kind of temporary bird-hibernation. That just feels very New England to me.

17. Common Loon
State Bird of: Minnesota

The next two birds are extremely cool and distinctive, and arguably are very good fits for their states. The problem? I would say they are more commonly associated with our North American neighbors than with us. The Common Loon is provincial bird of Ontario, it appears on Canadian currency (their 'Loonie' $1 coin, to be exact), and won the popular vote in the recent Canadian state bird elections (but still lost, aka pulling a Clinton). I know you can't really be expected to account for what other countries do, but this bird seems to be unambiguously, prominently Canadian. Maybe that makes sense, since you could argue that Minnesota is the most Canadian of the states.

16. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

State Bird of: Oklahoma

Ok, I will grant you, that is a very good bird. But does that bird say 'Oklahoma' to you? An ideal state bird both exemplifies and demonstrates the best in a state. I would argue that the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher does only one of those things. This is not the typical Oklahoma experience, and anyone who looks at this bird can tell that it's primarily a Central American bird. Take a look at this range map. If I can only see a bird in my state 1/4 of the time, can it still represent my state? This one feels like the person in charge just chose the coolest looking bird that's been seen in Oklahoma and called it a day.

15. Rhode Island Red
State Bird of: What state do you think it's the state bird of?

The last bird that loses points on a technicality, we have the last of the 3 state birds that are technically not native to the country. Bred in Rhode Island in the late 19th century, this giant, rust-colored chicken has been a staple of meat and egg production ever since. It appears much higher on the list than his fellow chicken by virtue of not tacitly advocating animal cruelty (except the dairy industry, which, yes, there are problems). I'm factoring in the extra points for name-of-state in state bird, but this is accomplishment is somewhat diminished by the fact that you're more likely to see this bird in the grocery store freezer section than the wild. Rhode Island Reds enjoy stellar ratings on my literal favorite website, at 93% favorable and a formidable 8th place in the Chickens category. Let's close out part 1 with some excerpts from reviews about this great chicken.

"I had trouble deciding between 4 1/2 stars or 5 stars on this breed. They are good chickens anyway, and I have no dislikes. Hope this helps!"

"They are mellow and just want to be loved on"

"She asserts herself but is not a bully"

"They are GREAT layers, but they have attacked a killed another chicken."

"want first food, first water, and plenty of personal space from the other chickens"

How Rhode Island is that, huh?

Anyway, we'll be back next week with the thrilling 14-1 list. Who is the top state bird?!? Part 2 is now live, so go find out now!

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