Maine’s general issue license plate may soon look like this, if approved in the Legislature. Submitted photo

Lawmakers and state officials on Wednesday braced for testimony from defenders of the venerable chickadee, which has been a fixture on Maine license plates for nearly a quarter century.

But it never came.

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee held a hearing on a proposal to replace by 2026 all general issue license plates featuring the official state bird on a pine tree twig. The chickadee would be replaced with a new design based on the 1901 Maine flag featuring a pine tree and a star.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lynne Williams, D-Bar Harbor, was submitted late in the legislative session but has the backing of the Maine Office of the Secretary of State, which oversees the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows told lawmakers that the impetus for the change is safety.

“In many cases, these plates have deteriorated beyond recognition,” she said. “The ultimate purpose of the plate is public safety, on the road and highways.”

The chickadee license plate is almost 25 years old. Most states cycle out their license plates every five to 10 years, Bellows said. The changeovers have the side effect of forcing scofflaws to update their vehicle registrations because an old plate design is far easier to spot than outdated stickers.


If lawmakers approve the bill – and the lack of any opposition on Wednesday suggests they will – the state would begin issuing new plates in May 2025 with a goal of replacing them all by the following May. Motorists would get the new plates when they re-register their vehicles.

Maine’s chickadee license plate. Photo courtesy of

A work session is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday, followed by a committee vote.

Although no one spoke against the change, both Williams and Bellows acknowledged that the proposed new design based on the original Maine flag – which features a navy blue north star and a green pine tree – might face some opposition.

“I know some might disagree, but I think the design is fresh and simple,” Williams said. “The flag may not be universally loved, but I think it will be as well-loved as the lobster and the chickadee.”

The 1901 flag does have its fans, although none testified in favor of the change Wednesday.

The flag, with its green pine tree and blue North Star set against an off-white background, was used as Maine’s official flag from 1901 to 1909 before lawmakers went with the more traditional state seal design used in many states. Several efforts to restore its status as the state flag have failed in recent years, but its renewed popularity made it a politically palatable choice to replace the chickadee.


Prior to the issuance of the chickadee plates, Maine’s motor vehicle plates featured the state’s signature crustacean. Bellows pointed out that in the 1980s, more than 100 people lined up to oppose putting a lobster on plates. No design would be accepted by everyone, she said.

“I’m a birder … I love the chickadee, and change is difficult,” she said. “But the lobster became a specialty plate (that support the lobster industry). One could imagine the chickadee could do the same.”

Chickadee license plates can be as old as 25 years old, and some are hard to read. Photo courtesy of Maine Secretary of State

The new general issue plate would retain the state’s nickname, Vacationland, according to the proposed bill. Vehicle owners would be able to keep their license plate numbers if they wish.

It wasn’t clear how much it would cost to replace all chickadee plates, but Bellows said her office has sufficient funds from the recently passed supplemental budget. Consumers would not bear any costs. It’s likely the switch could even generate revenue. When the state migrated from the lobster to the chickadee in 1999, registrations and revenue increased considerably.

Some lawmakers on Wednesday suggested a more open process for selecting a design, something Bellows cautioned against, simply in the interest of time and because the matter had been studied. But she said she was open to working with lawmakers on small changes.

Lawmakers first directed the secretary of state last session to study the license plate issue, which led to the conclusion that replacing the chickadee was prudent.

When license plate numbers are not easily visible, it makes things more difficult for law enforcement, for toll collectors and cameras, and for the general public. Lt. Bruce Scott, head of the Maine State Police traffic safety unit, testified Wednesday that new plates would assist police with toll evasion, criminal activity and more.

Additionally, older plates also lose their extra-shiny appearance as they age, making them even less visible at night and in adverse weather conditions.

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