What is the State Bird of New Jersey? (And Why?)

New Jersey is the fifth smallest state by land area, but because of the dense population, it is still the 11th most populous state in the US. The state animal for New Jersey is the horse, but what is the state bird?

The state of New Jersey chose the American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis), also known as the eastern goldfinch, as the state bird in 1935. The tiny yellow canary bird with a short, cone-shaped bill and a short, forked tail helps control ragweed growth in the Garden State of New Jersey by munching the weed’s seeds.

The state bird for New Jersey, the American Goldfinch, perched on a bush

The state bird for New Jersey, the American Goldfinch, perched on a bush

Why is the American Goldfinch the state bird for New Jersey?

The Garden State of New Jersey made a logical choice for the wild canary, another name for the American Goldfinch, since it loves wide open spaces and meadows. The bird regales New Jersey residents with its songs regularly and the state recognizes its loyalty by making it the state bird. Its love of allergy-causing weed seeds, such as ragweed, probably didn’t hurt the residents’ love for the tiny avian. Hey, if you helped control allergies, you’d pretty much be everyone’s friend.

When did the American Goldfinch become the state bird for New Jersey?

The state of New Jersey waited until 1935 to name its state bird, doing so during its state legislature’s 159ths meeting. On June 27, 1935, it designated the bird as one of its state symbols. It shares the American Goldfinch as a state bird with Washington and Iowa.

Just as New Jersey history contains many mysteries about people, the canary falls into this category, too. The legislation making it the official state bird, New Jersey Statute Title 52, Section 52:9A-1, contains no reason why. Legislative journals at the time and newspapers also did not record the reason behind the choice, so you won’t find some great story behind it. Like many of the secrets in New Jersey, no one is telling. Evidently, the legislature took a vow of omerta on this one.

Female American Goldfinch

Female American Goldfinch

What does the state bird of New Jersey look like?

These bright yellow birds dot the entire state of NJ. 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. However, during winter, the male looks the same. 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.

While you can make a canary a pet, trapping a wild canary isn’t recommended. Instead, choose a canary from a pet store since these birds were bred for the pet life. You can put out a bird feeder to draw canaries to your yard. They’ll live between nine to 10 years in captivity, but up to 16 years in the wild.

American Goldfinch in the blossom

American Goldfinch in the blossom

How do American Goldfinches behave?

Canaries mate for life. The male and female sing until they have their chicks. When the babies molt, the mom stops singing. At this point, the mother stops singing. The baby canaries learn to sing at the age of six weeks. 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 gunfire 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, you can do so. 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 a human instead of a bird.

Do American Goldfinches form communities?

Canaries 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 parent's nest and go repeat the same process to propagate more canaries.

Three American Goldfinches on a feeder in the backyard

Three American Goldfinches on a 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.

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