AUGUSTA — Two ornithologists as well as a state representative speaking on behalf of some 80 fourth-graders urged lawmakers Wednesday to choose a bird – any bird – to be the state’s official representative and clarify a statute that dates back to 1927.

Maine’s state bird is the chickadee – but which chickadee? The statute that established the designation 92 years ago doesn’t say.

There are several species of chickadee, and two are found here: the cold-weather-tolerant boreal and the commonplace black-capped. At a quiet hearing before the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government, several speakers urged lawmakers to settle on one.

Choosing a specific chickadee – regardless of which – would better highlight Maine values and attributes, Maine Audubon’s outreach manager Nick Lund testified.

“A decision needs to be made whether Maine’s state bird should be familiar or symbolic,” Lund said. “The black-capped is familiar, a statewide ambassador of the bird world, found in every backyard and enjoyed by all Mainers. Or should it be symbolic, as the boreal chickadee represents Maine’s distinct toughness and our commitment to protecting our wildlife habitat from the impacts of climate change?”

University of Maine ornithology Prof. Brian Olsen also laid out the merits of both birds. “The black-capped is already on the license plate, so that choice would be efficient,” he said. “And in support of the boreal, I will say that the only other state that has the black-capped chickadee is Massachusetts. And I’ll leave it at that.”

Rep. Betty Austin, D-Skowhegan, sponsored the “act regarding the state bird” at the request of 78 fourth-graders from the Margaret Chase Smith Elementary School in Skowhegan. They’d asked for her help after learning in a newspaper article about the state bird’s identity crisis.

The children did not attend the hearing, but Austin told other lawmakers that the students had taken their own vote and overwhelmingly favored the boreal, 49 to 29.

Some committee members had their doubts.

Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship, questioned the financial impact of switching to the boreal, since Maine’s license plates would then need to change. Outside the hearing, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said that the boreal chickadee could be phased in, without any additional cost.

“We appreciate these kids brought it forward, but I don’t know that it needs to change,” Rep. Walter Riseman, I-Harrison, said during the hearing. “It’s like saying, ‘We drive cars.’ You don’t need to specify anything else. I think the status quo is fine.”

The committee will discuss the bill again in a work session in the coming weeks at a yet-to-be determined date. At that point, they can either kill it or vote it out of committee to bring to the floor of the full Legislature for a vote.

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: FlemingPph

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