Recently there was a media flurry about The Royal Canadian Geographic Society’s effort to select a national bird for Canada despite a total lack of interest by the national government itself.
Americans are so used to seeing the Bald Eagle as the symbol of the United States, it is a natural assumption that most other countries also have a national bird. And so the Society put out a call to Canadians to cast their ballot for their favorite bird—and like the US where the majority did not get its choice as president—the third place candidate was voted in as the winner.
That bird turned out to be the Gray Jay—a corvid relative of ravens and our own blue jays—which came in behind the first place Common Loon and the second place Snowy Owl.
The choice—also called the Whiskey Jack from the Cree Indian name Wisakedjak—has not sat well with the voters who are not particularly familiar with this bird.
While the Gray Jay can be found in every Canadian province, it tends to live in the northern, colder parts of those provinces far away from the major population centers. The Geographic Society, however, felt it represented Canadians particularly well since the bird is friendly, very smart, hardy and remains in Canada year round.
The choice of an unfamiliar bird for a Canadian symbol got me thinking about our own local symbols. I had absolutely no idea what the New York State bird might be.
I also checked to see if New York City has a symbolic bird which it does not. I shudder to think that it could be the pigeon! In truth, the New York State bird—which we share with Missouri—turns out to be the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), adopted as such in 1970. Not to commit the sin of omission, I would also like to make you aware of other New York State symbols. The State tree is the sugar maple, the State shell the bay scallop, the State fossil the sea scorpion—Eurypterus remipes—from the Silurian Age (444-416 million years ago), the State gem the garnet, the State insect the Nine-spotted Ladybug, the State reptile the snapping turtle, the State animal the beaver, the State fruit the apple, the State flower the rose and the State bush the lilac.
And there is the State freshwater fish the brook trout while the State salt water fish is the striped bass.
These legislative symbols are usually driven by the public. A subject is selected either by individuals, students or organizations. That symbol is then researched for appropriateness and a request for a legislative bill is made. The bill follows a designated legislative process and if approved, voila, we have a new state symbol.
Despite having a backyard feeder, which I keep supplied with seed and suet year-round, I have never seen an Eastern Bluebird (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern Bluebird/id).
Researching them I see that they will only visit a feeder if you are putting out dried mealworms since they eat primarily insects in summer. In winter, when the insects are gone, they eat remaining fruit and berries. The male’s wings, back and head are covered with bright blue feathers, the chest is rusty red and the belly is white. The female has the same color scheme, however, all the colors are duller. It is a member of the thrush family and although a small bird, it is very fierce in defending its nest—which can be found either in a tree or a manmade nest box—from much larger birds.
In the spirit of neighborliness, I looked up the state birds for New York’s two closest neighbors, New Jersey and Connecticut. The state bird of New Jersey is the Eastern or American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) and the Robin (Turdus migratorius) is the state bird of Connecticut. Robins are the largest North American member of the thrushes which means it is related to the Eastern Bluebird. Although I think of them as harbingers of spring, apparently some do not migrate. American Goldfinches are just that, emphasis on gold. The male spring plumage is a brilliant yellow on the body while the wings are black and white and it wears a black cap. Male winter plumage and female plumage is duller.
It might be fun to have readers suggest a symbolic Riverdale bird. Send your ideas to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put Bird Suggestion in the subject line. With so many different birds visiting local bird feeders, it will be interesting to see the favorites. I’m rather partial to the black-capped chickadee or nuthatches or…