SKOWHEGAN — Chickadee or not chickadee?

It’s the Maine state bird, this flitting, cheery-sounding 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 help determine which breed is 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 will 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 tourists 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 students assembled Monday morning to meet Austin and give her their letters agreed that 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.”

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, as will Brian Olsen, University of Maine associate professor of biology and ecology, but Austin said she has no clear choice of her own.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


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