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What Is the State Bird of Delaware?

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  • Written By: Anna B. Smith
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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The state bird of Delaware is the Blue Hen chicken. Use of this bird as representative of the state is based on some historical documentation and state legend regarding the reputation of the soldiers from Delaware during the Revolutionary War. This bird was often associated with cockfighting, and the strength and ferocity of Delaware soldiers on the battlefield is supposed to have been compared to the birds which fought in the rings.

This domestic chicken became the official state bird of Delaware on 14 April 1939. It was already popular in use throughout the state in a variety of publicity materials, such as political posters and state memorabilia. This decision by the Delaware General Assembly came as an upset to members of the State Federation of Women's Clubs of Delaware, who had previously recommended the scarlet cardinal. The Blue Hen chicken is technically not a recognized breed of bird, nor is it particularly indigenous to the state.

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The origin for the use of the Blue Hen as the state bird of Delaware is supposed to have begun during the Revolutionary War. Men of that state are believed to have brought several Blue Hens with them from home as they traveled between battles. The men would then pit these birds against one another in cockfights to relieve the tensions of war that surrounded them. Rumor spread that these birds were descended from a famous Blue Hen living in Kent County, Delaware, and that their prowess and fierceness in the fighting ring was unparalleled.

Some stories name the owner of these birds as Captain Jonathan Caldwell, a resident of Kent County. Various historical documents reference his fame as a breeder of gamecocks. It is thought that he refined the Blue Hen chicken breed, and that this particular gamecock fought more ferociously in the ring than most other types of hen.

When the men of Delaware fought in battles, they soon became likened to their fighting Blue Hens. They were vicious and fearless, much like the birds they showed for sport and entertainment. The comparison between the fighting men of that state and their fierce fighting birds became a source of pride for the citizens of Delaware.

The Blue Hen rooster, which is typically featured as the state bird of Delaware, displays an underbelly of light blue or soft gray feathers. The plumage across his back is dark in color, often appearing black, and ends in a light blue tail. His head is capped by a traditional red comb and wattle.

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jmc88
Post 4

@JimmyT - I would not be surprised if that were the case. Whenever I go to Delaware I see Blue Hens everywhere, but not live ones I only see their depictions in artwork and other places.

In the state of Delaware the Blue Hen is everywhere, on cups, shirts, mugs, signs, it is an official state symbol that is noticeable, unique, and recognizable.

The University of Delaware has even named the Blue Hen as its official mascot and there is now a great football program in the country that has a mascot, which is a chicken. I find that to be a little ironic, but I have to wonder if the state of Delaware did this on purpose as they saw the irony in picking a chicken in order to represent their state?

JimmyT
Post 3

I personally like that the state of Delaware picked something that is incredibly unique for their state bird that makes them stand out from other states. But, one has to ask why they picked something that is not really indigenous to their state.

I have always thought that states need to pick something unique to their state in order to represent themselves and stand out from others, but to pick a chicken that is not really a bird that calls Delaware home makes someone wonder if the state legislature at the time, simply wanted to pick something unique just to be unique and get publicity?

Izzy78
Post 2

@matthewc23 - You are absolutely correct. I have heard a lot of stories about the blue hen chicken and how fierce and hard to handle it can be.

What I find surprising is that the usual name calling of someone "chicken" implies that they are a coward that will run away from a fight.

Apparently though, the chicken, when taken in this context, becomes something to be proud of as it represents the complete opposite.

I have to wonder when this saying came to be and how it evolved over time as the reasoning behind the state of Delaware picking this to be their official state bird revolved around an earlier time than the euphemism and reflected the complete opposite?

matthewc23
Post 1

I have to be totally honest. When one first thinks of a state picking a chicken as their official state bird, I bet that it is found to be laughable. However, when one understands Delaware history they begin to understand why it makes sense.

The Blue Hen is a chicken that was well known for its ferocity in the realm of cock fighting, when it was seen as socially acceptable to do.

Many soldiers would have cock fighting contests in order to pass the time and the blue hen was seen as one of the fiercest chickens to use and during the Revolutionary War stories were told across the battlefields of the East as Delaware soldiers were told to be very fierce, like these blue hen chickens.

I know that it sounds strange to pick a chicken to be the state bird, but as the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover.

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