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What Is the State Bird of Washington?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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Also the state bird of Iowa and New Jersey, the state bird of Washington is the willow goldfinch, also known as the American goldfinch. Sometimes called a wild canary, the willow goldfinch was officially named Washington's state bird in 1951 after over two decades of indecision. The scientific name for the willow goldfinch is Corduelis tristis.

In 1928, Washington's state legislature decided Washington needed a state bird. Determining which bird, however, was no easy matter. The task was first given to the children, who wanted to adopt the western meadowlark. Unfortunately, the legislature was unhappy with the meadowlark because of its popularity in nearby states. They continued to hold various contests periodically, never deciding on a winner, until finally they declared the willow goldfinch, a popular contender in a few of the contests, as the official state bird of Washington in 1951.

Although the female willow goldfinch has drab olive and muted yellow coloring, the male has a brilliant yellow body with striking black wings and forehead. Small birds, they only reach 4.5–5.1 inches (11–13 cm) in length, and weigh between 0.4 and 0.7 ounces (11–20 g). Molting twice a year, the male goldfinch sheds his brilliant coloring for the fall and winter months, adopting a look similar to the female's. His brilliant coloring returns after his second molt in late winter, a sign of spring approaching.

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Active, the state bird of Washington often flits around from perch to perch and is frequently in motion. With its small stature, it can easily perch on the tops of thistles or thin outer shrub branches. Its flight is uneven and bouncy.

The state bird of Washington inhabits grassy, open areas where thistle or sunflowers — its main food source — are abundant. They also are frequently seen in nesting boxes along roadways or around large lawns and golf courses and frequent bird feeders that provide them with their favorite seeds. These birds are unusual because, unlike many seed-eating birds which will also include insects as part of their diet, willow goldfinches never intentionally eat anything but seeds.

Breeding in June or July, willow goldfinches make their nests in shrubs. The female spends nearly a full week weaving plant fibers and thin roots together to create a small, open cup that is tight enough to hold water. The cup is then secured to a shrub using spider silk. The female incubates two to seven eggs for about two weeks. The hatchlings, born helpless, depend on their parents for the first two weeks of their lives.

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