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The Debate Over Maine's State Bird Comes Down To Specificity


Our next story pits north against south. It is about climate change. It is about state sovereignty. It is about songbirds.


The state bird of Maine is the chickadee. The question is - which one?

NICK LUND: Chickadee is not a bird. It's a family of birds.

CORNISH: That's Nick Lund of the Maine Audubon Society. The lack of specificity bothers him.

LUND: It would be like having our state pizza be meat or our state dog be Labrador.

CORNISH: Of course, the state pizza would have to be pepperoni - not just meat. And the state dog would have to be a yellow Lab, not just any Lab. See where we're going here?

KELLY: I'm looking forward to that story about state pizzas, by the way (laughter).

The topic before us today is there are two different types of chickadee living in Maine. Nick Lund thinks the state should specify which holds the official title. He raised this with the state legislature, and they just held a hearing about it. Here are the candidates.

CORNISH: The black-capped chickadee.


CORNISH: It's found across the whole state, and it's already a little famous. It's on the state's Vacationland license plate. Freeport Bird Supply (ph) owner Derek Lovitch is on team black-capped. We reached out to him - of course - birding on a mountaintop.

DEREK LOVITCH: We have them in every habitat from top to bottom. They don't head south for the winter. They don't go somewhere else. They eke out a living in the Maine woods. They're a tough bird, a scrappy bird. It seems to represent, to me, the way we all work our butts off to eke out a living in Maine.

KELLY: On the other side, we have the boreal chickadee.


KELLY: It is much more rare. It is only found in part of the state only part of the year. There is some concern it might stop visiting Maine if the climate warms too much. Boreal proponents say rare is good. It makes it special. Here's University of Maine biologist Brian Olsen testifying at the State House about the boreal last week.


BRIAN OLSEN: They are hardy inhabitants of the Northern Maine Woods, and they eat below-zero conditions for breakfast. Boreal chickadees actually have been reported a number of times at deer carcass sites eating frozen meat, which I think is fairly robust for a songbird.

CORNISH: More importantly, the boreal chickadee is not already claimed as someone else's state bird.

KELLY: The black-capped chickadee is not only claimed, it is claimed by Massachusetts.

CORNISH: Maine broke away from Massachusetts back in 1820, so there's still some beef there.

KELLY: Nick Lund of Maine Audubon points out Maine got there first.

LUND: They copied us. Maine voted to have the chickadee as our state bird in 1927. Massachusetts voted to have the chickadee - and they specified the black-capped chickadee - in 1941.

CORNISH: OK. Don't worry about black-capped backers coming for boreal fans or Maine birders taking on their Massachusetts counterparts. For all the drama, most of the birders we spoke to were just excited to be making the case for chickadees and Maine's birds in the State House.


THE FOUNDATIONS: (Singing) Where in the world did I do it wrong? My little chickadee, you still belong here in my arms no matter what you do. My little chickadee, I still love you. Where in the world did I let you down? My little chickadee, when you were around... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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