State officials unveiled the new standard-issue Maine license plates during a news conference Monday in Augusta. Courtesy of Maine Department of the Secretary of State

After 25 years of chickadees perching on the bumpers of Maine cars, the state has unveiled the design of a new license plate that features a realistic-looking white pine tree with branches, a dark brown trunk and different shades of green needles.

Inside the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Augusta on Monday morning, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows and Deputy Secretary of State Catherine Curtis announced that all drivers will be given pine tree plates when they reregister their cars after May 1, 2025, no matter the condition of their chickadees.

The change, approved by the Legislature in July, was spurred by safety concerns that Maine’s older plates have deteriorated beyond the point of recognition. The standard chickadee plates started being used in 1999, and while most states cycle out license plates every five to 10 years, Maine does not.

“While some might think of license plates as decoration or a way to show Maine pride, the ultimate purpose of a license plate itself is for vehicle identification,” Bellows said. “Public safety is the No. 1 reason that we’re retiring the chickadee plate.”

Older license plates make it harder for law enforcement officers to identify plates to help solve crimes or identify vehicle owners in crashes, officials said. They also reduce the effectiveness of automated toll collectors and traffic cameras.

Drivers of standard passenger vehicles will be able to pick from the pine tree plates or a plain version without any illustrations. Commercial vehicles, such as farm trucks, will only use pine tree plates.


Maine drivers can pay $25 to keep their existing plate numbers. Drivers with specialty plates, such as lobster, breast cancer, agriculture or conservation plates, won’t be affected.

Producing and mailing the new plates is expected to cost around $6 million to $7 million, according to the fiscal note attached to the law.

But Mainers won’t be fronting the costs when they reregister, the state said. Instead, drivers will be automatically issued new plates for the same cost they would typically pay to reregister.

Around $5.3 million for the changeover will come from the BMV’s surplus funds, Bellows said in an interview, with the remaining $700,000 to $1.7 million “self-funded” by the BMV. She said taxes will not go up as a result of the transition.


The new plate was based on the original 1901 state flag, with a dark green pine tree and navy blue North Star.


This version, which Bellows called a “modern adaptation,” was designed by Mary Catus, an employee with the Maine Department of the Secretary of State.

“The new pine-tree plate is a fresh approach to a classic design rooted in Maine history,” Bellows said.

Its unveiling comes amid a debate around whether Maine’s proposed state flag of the pine tree and star should look more natural, or stylized like the current official maritime state flag issued in 1939.

For the license plate, Bellows said, the state Legislature’s Transportation Committee preferred a more realistic-looking design. But Bellows said the plate design will have no bearing on how her department designs a proposed new state flag modeled after the 1901 version. Voters will decide whether to adopt a new flag in an upcoming referendum vote.

Maine Flag Co. co-founder Chris Korzen is less concerned about the implications of the chosen license plate design. The Portland-based business began selling hand-made state flags in 2017 that popularized the stylized Maine maritime flag to its current point of ubiquity.

“There are two sets of design requirements – a plate and a flag are not the same thing,” said Korzen, who has lobbied to use some version of the maritime design for a new state flag. “You can hardly point to an iconic flag anywhere in this world that has a realistic depiction of anything. The whole point is to simplify and stylize. That’s not necessarily the case for a license plate. We have a very realistic chickadee on the plate right now. If we were to have a chickadee flag, I wouldn’t expect it to look like that.”



By May 2026, 900,000 Maine passenger and commercial vehicles must have the new plates attached.

“Every Mainer who had a chickadee plate will have a new plate, and if they don’t, that means they didn’t register their vehicle,” Bellows said.

Drivers who haven’t registered their vehicle 30 to 150 days after their sticker expires face a $50 fine, while vehicles with stickers that expired more than 150 days earlier face $100 to $500 fines. But Bellows said in practice, some officers may issue warnings, and drivers can get their fines dismissed if they register their cars after they are ticketed.

Bellows understands that some drivers will be sad to let go of their chickadees. That’s why the Department of the Secretary of State is allowing Mainers to hold on to their old plates as long as aren’t on vehicles. Otherwise, drivers can recycle their plates at their local BMV offices.

“Those with the chickadee plate can certainly keep a plate for posterity’s sake in their barn or their home if they really want a memento,” Bellows said.

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