SKOWHEGAN — Chickadee or not chickadee?

It’s the Maine state bird, this flitting, cheery-sounding little bird, but which one is it — the boreal chickadee or the black-capped chickadee?

That question is to be addressed Wednesday when state Rep. Betty Austin, D-Skowhegan, and others are scheduled to make a presentation before the Legislature’s State and Local Committee in Augusta to once and for all perhaps determine which breed is, in fact, the state bird.

Austin has recruited about 100 fourth-graders at the Margaret Chase Smith Elementary School in Skowhegan for assistance. The students did research, cut out pictures, wrote letters and took a vote, all of which is to be passed onto the legislative committee.

Of the 78 fourth-graders who voted, 49 of them chose the boreal chickadee, and 29 voted for its black-capped cousin.

“I think it was a good choice to write a bill about the boreal chickadee becoming the Maine State Bird,” wrote fourth-grader Thomas Edward Gage. “The black cap is Massachusetts state bird. We will get more tourist to come to Maine to see the chickadee. That chickadee lives in our deep forests. It will be fun for people to come to Maine to try to take a picture of the state bird.

“This is why I think the boreal chickadee would be a good state bird.”

All of the kids assembled Monday morning to meet Austin and give her their letters agreed — the boreal is more appealing as the state bird, despite the popularity of the friendly black-capped chickadee. Both are native to Maine.

The boreal chickadee has a brown head with grayish-brown body and a small white cheek patch. It’s the same size as a black-capped. It, too, is friendly, but it’s found deep in the boreal forest of northern Maine and Canada.

The black-capped chickadee has a distinctive black cap, white cheeks, white underparts and gray wings. It can be found all year long in back yards, tree lines and at wild bird feeding stations.

The boreal chickadee has a shorter and more high-pitched song than the black-capped but similar sounding call of ‘chick-a-dee-dee-dee.’

“I’m (saying) that they need to designate which chickadee should be the state bird,” Austin said Monday. “Most people think it’s the black-cap, but it was never designated. In all of the official paperwork, it says chickadee — it doesn’t specify. It’s kind of a quandary. We won’t be proposing either one, we’ll just say we should have it designated.”

Surrounded by Margaret Chase Smith fourth-grade students, state Rep. Betty Austin of Skowhegan holds a picture of a boreal chickadee, on left, and a black-capped chickadee that may be chosen to be the officially designated Maine state bird after Austin submits the bill to a committee in Augusta this week. Students wrote letters that will accompany Austin. From left are Faith Pease, Addie Bubier, Emilee Kirby, Austin, Thomas Gage, Evan Goodridge and Jasiah Marshall. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

The Maine Legislature in 1927 named “the chickadee” as the state bird. But seven species of chickadees live in North America, and two of them are in Maine.

Nick Lund, a birder who works at Maine Audubon, called attention to the confusing state symbol, saying it was time for the Legislature to fix it.

Lund will be among the presenters Wednesday for Austin’s pitch, as will University of Maine Associate Professor of Biology & Ecology Brian Olsen, but Austin said she has no clear choice of her own.

If the question makes it out of committee, it would go to the full Legislature for rounds of voting, Austin said.

But the fourth graders all appeared to take sides on the fleeting question Monday.

“I think the boreal chickadee should be it, because it lives in Maine and it matches with Maine’s woods,” said fourth-grader Addie Bubier. “And people will only find it in Maine’s woods.”

The seven students assembled by school counselor Mary Baker on Monday morning agreed that the black-capped chickadee is more visible and therefore more popular but also agreed that it would be nice to have a state bird not shared by another state. Besides, they agreed, having a unique state bird might just be a boost to the economy.

“People come more to Maine to see the boreal,” student Jasiah Marshall said. “I think it should be the boreal because more people come here to see the boreal than the black cap. It’s very rare, and people don’t really see it in other states.”

Addie Bubier said she is sure she saw a boreal chickadee once at Cathedral Pines, a campground in Eustis.

The students said the chickadee question came up naturally during classes on state government and the legislative process.

Austin said the bill, titled An Act Regarding the State Bird, is listed as LD 572.

The bill has several co-sponsors, including state Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham.


Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]

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