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What is the State Bird of Iowa? (And Why?)

Iowa is the 26th largest state by area and the 31st most populous state in the United States. It has a mixture of dense woodlands, wetlands and natural lakes. But what is the state bird of Iowa?

The state of Iowa chose the American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), also known as the eastern goldfinch, as the state bird in 1933. The tiny yellow canary bird with a short, cone-shaped bill and a short, forked tail became the state of Iowa’s favored bird by choosing to remain in the state even during its cold, harsh, snowy winters. The bird showed loyalty and so did Iowa.

The state bird of Iowa, the American Goldfinch

The state bird of Iowa, the American Goldfinch

Why is the American Goldfinch the state bird for Iowa?

The Corn State of Iowa chose the superbly loyal American Goldfinch, also known as a wild canary, as its state bird, since it committed to spend the entire year in the harsh Iowa environment. Most songbirds fly south for winter, but the wild canary regales Iowa residents with its songs regularly.

The Hawkeye state recognized that loyalty by making it the state bird. Just as it does in other states, this bird eats allergy-causing weed seeds, such as ragweed, as well as dandelion, sunflower, and evening primrose seeds. It doesn’t hurt this tiny avian’s popularity that it helps control allergies and assists, gardeners, in weed control.

When did the American Goldfinch become the state bird for Iowa?

The state of Iowa waited until March 22, 1933, to name its state bird, doing so during the Iowa Legislature meeting. The state shares the American Goldfinch as a state bird with Washington and New Jersey.

A female American Goldfinch

A female American Goldfinch

What does the state bird of Iowa look like?

These bright yellow birds dot the entire state of Iowa. You can see them from afar all year around since they hold their plumage in spring and summer. The males of the American Goldfinch grow a black beak and forehead. The female’s feathers come in an olive-yellow with a brown tail and wings. The winter brings changes to the male, who takes on the same coloring as the female. Both genders grow to about 4.25 inches in length. The male bird’s chest and upper area appear yellow, too, as does the female, but the male’s rump appears white. Both genders feature pale legs.

From head to tail, the American Goldfinch measures 4.25 inches. Its wingspan ranges from 7.5 to 8.7 inches. These little birds don’t weigh much – only .39 ounces to .79 ounces.

An American Goldfinch perched on a branch

An American Goldfinch perched on a branch

How do these birds behave?

The American Goldfinch keeps busy during the daytime with singing and foraging for food. This active little bird searches for food with its mate or in a small flock.

Canaries mate for life. The male and female sing until they have children. When the babies molt, the mom stops singing, but her children learn to sing at six weeks of age. Canaries sing a rapid-fire, high-pitched song that sounds a bit like the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun firing. In fact, many canary songs provide the inspiration for laser gun fire in video games.

Males and females must reach the age of maturity before they sing regularly. Although they’re taught at a young age, these birds don’t begin performing until about the age of nine months.

Canaries can learn somewhat like humans. If a canary does not have its parents around to teach it to sing, a human can teach it to sing. Even a fully grown canary that does not sing, can be trained to do so. The American goldfinch turns out to be another variety of bird that negates the idea of bird-brained behavior. These intellectual avians can learn to perform songs well into their adulthood and they can learn from another species.

Canaries make great pets. You should not try to trap a wild canary though. Rather, purchase a canary from a pet store, since these birds were bred for the pet life. If you prefer your canaries to live outdoors, you can put out a bird feeder to draw canaries to your yard. Stock it with sprouted seed as this is a favorite meal of canaries. Birds reared indoors live between nine to 10 years, but outdoors, wild birds can live up to 16 years.

Eastern Goldfinch during the winter

Eastern Goldfinch during the winter

Do American Goldfinches form communities?

American Goldfinches form nuclear families. These monogamous birds mate for life. Once coupled, they build a nest together, typically using milkweed, thistle and other fibrous plant life with sticks and twigs to create their home. They breed up to three times during their life, with each female bird’s pregnancy producing multiple eggs. A clutch of eggs ranges from two to seven per pregnancy. That means a single couple could produce up to 21 children.

The preference of the American Goldfinch is to live the entire year in the same habitat. Once they build their home, they want to stay there and raise their family. Their nesting period begins in late June to early July. Their incubation period lasts about 15 days. Once baby birds mature, they fly the coop, so to speak. They leave their parents’ nest and go repeat the same process to propagate more canaries.

An American Goldfinch on a bird feeder in the backyard

An American Goldfinch on a bird feeder in the backyard

What do American Goldfinches eat?

Like many wild birds, canaries love weed seeds. They tend to eat the seeds from the materials they build their nests. This means thistle seed mostly, but lots of ragweed seed, too. You can put a bird feeder in your yard to attract these beauties with their favorite seeds. They really love nyger seed and sunflower seeds. You can find seed mix made to attract these birds at most feed or lawn and garden stores. When they forage in the wild, these birds either search the ground or fly into a bush or shrub to search its branches.

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