What Is The Washington State Bird?

The willow goldfinch (left).
The willow goldfinch (left).

Washington is a US state located in the northwestern part of the country, named the Pacific Northwest (PNW). With an area of 71,362 sq mi and a population of 7,535,591, Washington ranks as the 18th most extensive and 13th most populous US state. The state was admitted to the Union in 1889, and is nicknamed "The Evergreen State." In addition to its flag, Washington has numerous state symbols, including a state flower (Pacific rhododendron), state fruit (apple), state tree (Western hemlock), and state fish (Steelhead trout). Washington also has an official state bird: the willow goldfinch.

Official State Bird

The willow goldfinch, also known as the American goldfinch or the wild canary, is Washington's state bird. The state legislature began the process of adopting an official bird in 1928 by asking schoolchildren to pick their favorite. The majority chose the western meadowlark, but legislators rejected the selection since the bird was popular among many other states including Oregon and Wyoming. In 1931, the Federation of Women's Clubs conducted a statewide referendum by nominating the woodpecker, willow goldfinch, song sparrow, junco, and the western tanager as candidates for state bird. By 1951, the state legislature had not approved a bird, but instead called for a runoff between the willow goldfish and western meadowlark. The willow goldfinch proved popular, and was therefore designated the official state bird later that year. It is also the official state bird of Iowa and New Jersey.

Physical Description

The willow goldfinch is between 4.3 and 5.5 inches long and has a wingspan of about 7.5 inches. The bird has a small pink conical beak that turns bright orange during the spring molt. The male finch is bright yellow, with a white rump visible during flight, while the female is primarily brown in color. Young willow goldfinch have a dull brown back and a pale yellow underside.

Distribution and Habitat

The American goldfinch is found throughout the United States. It is a short-distance migrant, as the northern population moves south during the winter. In the 1930s, the goldfinch was unsuccessfully introduced in Tahiti and Bermuda. The bird prefers open country, especially fields, flood plains, meadow, gardens, and orchards. The yellow goldfinch is a granivorous bird, meaning it primarily eats the seeds of plants, but occasionally feeds on small insects for protein. Its primary diet consists of thistle, dandelion, mullein, cosmos, ragweed, sunflower, as well as a variety of other annual plants. The yellow goldfinch also consumes tree buds, berries, and maple sap.

Interaction with Humans

The yellow goldfinch maintains a close relationship with humans, as the bird can be found in backyards and gardens, where they feed on bee balm, thistle, and zinnias. During the winter, the yellow goldfinch migrates close to humans to feed on niger seeds. The bird is not of immediate concern to conservationists because it is not impacted by human activity. Although other animals and birds are negatively affected by deforestation, the yellow goldfinch actually benefits from the open areas that deforestion creates.


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