Debate over state symbol is for the birds

A bill that would change Washington State’s official bird from the willow goldfinch to the great blue heron is clearly a debate that pits the bark-eaters, like me, against the farm boys, like reporter Ed Friedrich.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The goldfinch’s main natural habitats are weedy fields and floodplains, where plants such as thistles and asters are common. They’re also found in cultivated areas, roadsides, orchards, and backyards.”

Friedrich, who grew up in South Kitsap back in the old days when it was still largely rural, said he used to see them all the time in the fields of his youth.

I live in the woods of South Kitsap and spend a lot of time walking outdoors. I can’t say I’d know a goldfinch if it flew smack into me. They don’t come to our feeders. The heck with them.

The term “bark-eaters,” by the way, originated with former Arts & Entertainment editor Deborah Woolston, who once referred to South Kitsap as “land of the bark-eaters.”

Back on topic, I’d like to know how the heck the goldfinch was chosen as our state bird in the first place.

There’s nothing about the bird that says, “Washington State.” Its range is widespread, again from the Cornell Lab: pretty much all of North America. The map actually shows the gold finch is more often sighted in the Midwest and on the East Coast, than in the west.

The goldfinch is so common, in fact, that it’s also the state bird of Iowa and New Jersey … New Jersey! And, yes, Jim Dunwiddie, I know there’s more to your former home state than the New Jersey Turnpike.

Another thing that’s just wrong about having the goldfinch as our state bird is that, according to the Cornell Lab map (first linked page), the bird pretty much vacates Washington in the summer (I may be misinterpreting the map, and am sure to hear from nitpicking birdwatchers on this).

Now, about the heron. It’s a beautiful bird, plentiful around Puget Sound beaches. It’s graceful in flight and great at stabbing things with its beak, which is, like, a ninja skill of the bird world.

By the way, have you ever noticed how they always name developments after the critters that used to be there before the houses went in? I used to live near Heron Ridge, before it was Heron Ridge. Herons used to roost in the woods, scores of them. It was quite a sight. I’m sure they’ve found other places to roost. I wonder if they still pack together like that. Maybe you birdwatchers out there can help me out.

Now I’m starting to sound like Ed Friedrich talking about road kill.

It seems like the great blue heron better represents the Puget Sound region than any other area of the state. So probably the best thing about this bill is that it’ll give the folks in Western Washington and Eastern Washington something to argue about besides ferries.

Next I think we ought to mess with the state fossil, which is currently the Columbian Mammoth. Any nominations for a replacement?

In fact, lets just redo the entire list. Have at it:
State flower:
State tree:
State bird:
State song:
State gem:
State dance:
State folk song:
State fruit:
State grass:
State tartan:
State insect:
State fossil:
State marine mammal:
State vegetable:
State amphibian:
State ship:
State endemic mammal:

14 thoughts on “Debate over state symbol is for the birds

  1. The blue heron is a scavenger and preys on baby trout just trying to get along. The old blue plants its stilt legs along the sloped sides of large ponds stocked with 250 expensive baby rainbow trout trying to grow big enough to to grab a fishing hook on its way to the pond owners fry pan.

    The issue is we apparently have enough funds to go to the expense of flipping state birds – no matter what they are.
    How about making such a silly switch some time in a more prosperous future?

    The goldfinch loves Silverdale and our bird feeder – they’re beautiful and perky birds and ignore the feeder goldfish growing up in the nearby little blue cattle water trough pond. That is a good bird.
    Sharon O’Hara

  2. Supplemental session is $120,000,000 short and the biennial phase that must start in the next week is $6,000,000,000 short. Legislators should focus like a laser beam on the budget and doing the stem-to-stern streamlining to end the fiscal crisis. Birds, rocks, flower, beverage consideration must be held off. Do the core mission we sent you to Olympia for.

    The tight tango of Big public-sector unions and Dem majority must be broken up or we will NEVER reach fiscal health. Open letter to AFSCME (double-click link)


  3. Sharon – Regarding the slaughter of baby trout, like I said, “ninja skills.”

    Two questions about the feeder and goldfinches: anything particular you feed them? I just use generic bird food. maybe they’d like finch food? Second, do they appear or disappear at certain times of the year?


  4. Goldfinches flock my yard in Allyn all summer long. They are beautiful little birds. Sure they may be in other states, but so are herons. More likely to see finches in E. Washington that to see herons. Oh, by the way, you lived near Heron Ridge and when I resided in Belfair I lived near Goldfinch Rd.

    Recommendation on bird food. Get preshelled food at Wild Birds Unlimited in Gig Harbor (similar store in Poulsbo). When it’s shelled it won’t grow weeds in your lawn and flowerbaskets. The store also only carries seed that draws native birds.

  5. Chris – The bird seed is Kirkland bought at Costco (Silverdale)….the only one they sell.
    The yellow birds were wary…first one showed up then disappeared for about two weeks. I thought it was an escaped canary and felt sad that such a beautiful bird would have a short life span. It stood out like a dancing yellow sunbeam target for an eagle.
    What do I know about birds?
    I can shoe a horse.
    After the two week or so time frame another yellow ‘canary’ showed up and over time more came and yes, they came and went and then disappeared altogether.
    My son and daughter-in-law were over one day and I learned they weren’t canaries when she spotted them and yelled “goldfinches!”

    The bird feeder is from National Geographic and I got it because it was on sale and both sides allow a weight control… anything heavier on the perch shuts the feed door.
    Thanks for asking… Sharon

  6. You”re right – our pond was directly below their usual flight patterns back to the fishing grounds and nests. I enjoyed seeing them out in their own habitat while kayaking (PT Kayak tours) on their tour to the Hood Canal Bridge and out and about.
    We have splendid waterways and precious wildlife but there is something remarkable – to me – about the goldfinches.
    Their vivid bold color makes them stand out – like a breath of fresh air.
    Sharon O’Hara

  7. Sharon,

    So what if the Herons eat trout? Killer whales eat seals and salmon. Cats play with the mice before eating them. I think if you ask mice they’d all say they wish the cats would just get it over with.

    The point is the Goldfinches, which I agree are beautiful and are sometimes in my yard, take off for a season. I want a bird that will stick things out here in our moderate climate, not take off for Arizona or Canada at the first sign of impolite weather.

    Steven Gardner
    Kitsap Caucus blog buttinski

  8. I had good luck attracting goldfinches when I started buying thistle seed (very expensive). Unfortunately, those other ugly common finches started coming around in a huge flock that stayed around all year and chased the goldfinches away and they never came back. Not only were the common finches ugly, but they were not healthy—they died by the dozens, I don’t know why. No other bird species died around here.

    I took down the thistle feeder and just left the other one that had shelled sunflower seeds that were broken up in little pieces, and the huge flock of common finches went for that and started chasing all the other species of birds away.

    I used to see red-winged black birds, chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, towhees,small red-headed wood-peckers, juncos, etc. I finally had to take down all the feeders (I had them hanging from under the eaves away from trees so the ‘coons and squirrels couldn’t reach them) in order to get rid of that huge flock of ugly finches, and now I don’t see any birds in my yard. I just have the pair of mallard ducks in the pond, and one blue heron, and the odd robin.

    I like the goldfinch as the state bird, and I wish the common finches wouldn’t be here.

    Port Orchard, WA

  9. Guess what, Steve – the herons may stick around but unless you travel to their habitat, few people see them.

    I’ve never bought seals or salmon for the whales to eat, nor mice for the cat to nibble on and I only bought the rainbow babies twice – once should have been enough. I was kidding, Steve…I know the herons did what herons do

    What does ‘State Bird’ mean? I’d guess – maybe wrongly – that far more people and kids see the goldfinches when they are here than see the heron and they live here year around.

    “The present official state bird, the western or American goldfinch, aka “wild canary” (Carduelis tristis) was formally adopted in 1951 based on a special election among state school children. …

    Was another election held recently where a new group of school children voted for the heron? Why is the 1951 children’s special election so easily discarded at this particular poor economic time?

    Who decided the heron is more important than what the children wanted in 1951?
    Only my opinion… Sharon

  10. P. S. Steve, For what its worth … I did stock the pond with feeder goldfish ever after and enjoyed seeing them grow. If the herons got them..oh well.
    I like to think one or two may have survived the herons and descendants may still be there… Sharon O’Hara

  11. Correction: “Chris – The bird seed is Kirkland bought at Costco (Silverdale)….the only one they sell.”

    Sorry, Chris. The name of the bird seed is Audubon Park, not Kirkland brand.

  12. Washington State lists the Orca whale as Marine Mammal. (2005)

    Steve, Based on your objection to keeping the Goldfinch as state bird, should we adopt a different Marine Mammal – one that stays in Washington State year around?

    How about our state name, Washington in honor of George Washington? Its doubtful he even looked our way, much less lived here full time.

    Thanks for giving me a reason to look these things up…didn’t know our state fish is the Steelhead Trout and I don’t care if it leaves state waters or not unless we renamed it “Rainbow Trout”…?


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