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24 Birds Named After U.S. States

You might assume a bird with state in it’s name is commonly found within that state. That is certainly the case for many species, but not always. In fact, some of the birds on this list are rarely seen in the state they are named for! Birds are named after U.S. states for various reasons, including the location where the bird is commonly seen, but also sometimes where they were first discovered, described, or extensively studied. Let’s take a look at 24 of these state-named birds, and how they earned their titles.

1. California Condor

California Condor
California condor | image by vivtony00 via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Gymnogyps californianus

The California condor is one of the largest North American land birds, with an impressive wingspan reaching up to 9.8 feet. This critically endangered vulture is distinguished by its bald head, primarily black body, and contrasting white underwing feathers. Native to North America, it primarily inhabits rocky, forested regions in California, although conservation efforts have led to reintroductions in Arizona, Utah, and Baja California in Mexico.

The species was named after California, where it was first described and where some of the last wild populations were found before intensive conservation efforts began. Known for their soaring flight and scavenging habits, California condors play a crucial role in the ecosystem by disposing of carrion.

Despite facing extinction in the wild in the 1980s, the species has made a remarkable comeback through captive breeding programs, though it remains critically endangered and under close watch by conservationists.

2. California Quail

California quail
California quail | image by Alan Schmierer via Flickr

Scientific Name: Callipepla californica

The California quail is the state bird of California. They have a plump body, scaled appearance, and distinctive black plume that droops forward from its head. Native to the western United States, especially California, this species has adapted to a variety of habitats, including chaparral, scrub, and urban areas, where it forages for seeds and insects.

Their familiar “Chi-ca-go” call is a common sound in their range, especially in the morning and late afternoon. The California quail is celebrated for its adaptability, contributing to its popularity among birdwatchers and its status as an emblem of Californian wildlife. Additionally, it is often considered a backyard bird due to its frequent presence in residential areas.

3. Arizona woodpecker

Arizona woodpecker
Arizona woodpecker | Photo by: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Leuconotopicus arizonae

The Arizona woodpecker stands out for being quite brown in a sea of black and white North American woodpeckers. They have  chocolatey-brown upper-parts and white underparts covered in brown barring. Males have a red cap while females have a brown cap. This species is only found in the United States in a very small area of pine-oak woodlands in southeastern Arizona and New Mexico. Most of the population extends down western Mexico. 

The Arizona woodpecker is known for its behavior of foraging on tree trunks by starting at the bottom of the tree and spiraling upwards. Beetle larvae and adults, acorns, berries and other small insects make up most of their diet. 

4. California Gnatcatcher

California gnatcatcher
California gnatcatcher | image by Dominic Sherony via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Polioptila californica

The California gnatcatcher is a small, unassuming bird with a slate-gray body and a distinctive long tail that it often flicks while foraging. This species is endemic to the coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats of southern California and the Baja California peninsula in Mexico. Its name directly ties to its primary range within California, highlighting its strong association with the state’s unique ecosystems.

Known for its insectivorous diet, particularly gnat hunting, the California gnatcatcher’s soft “mew” call is a common sound within its habitat. Despite its small size, this bird plays a significant role in controlling insect populations.

5. California thrasher

California thrasher
California thrasher | image by Allan Hack via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Toxostoma redivivum

The California thrasher is a large, brown songbird, known for its curved bill and long tail, traits that are especially adapted for foraging in dense underbrush. This bird is native to California, from which it derives its name, and can also be found in parts of Baja California, Mexico. It inhabits chaparral, thickets, and wooded areas, showcasing a strong preference for dense cover.

The California thrasher is renowned for its complex and melodious song, often performing from high perches within its territory. It feeds primarily on insects and fruits, using its distinctive bill to dig and probe the soil.

6. California Towhee

California towhee
California towhee

Scientific Name: Melozone crissalis

The California towhee is a robust, sparrow-like bird characterized by its plain brown appearance and slight rust-colored undertones beneath the tail. While many towhee species exist across the country, this one earns its name from its primary range within California, extending into parts of Mexico. Preferring a habitat of brushy areas and chaparral, this bird is well adapted to both wild landscapes and suburban gardens.

The California towhee is known for its simple yet persistent call, a part of its vocal communication to establish territory and attract mates. Its diet consists mainly of seeds and insects, which it forages from the ground, often seen scratching at the soil with a two-footed hop. This species also has a reputation for trying to fight it’s own reflection in windows and car mirrors. 

7. Hawaiian duck

Hawaiian duck
Hawaiian duck | image by David Eickhoff via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Anas wyvilliana

The Hawaiian duck, or Koloa maoli, is a vulnerable species unique to Hawaii, which is reflected in its name. Smaller than the mallard, it has a mottled brown plumage and distinct facial markings. These ducks prefer freshwater habitats such as streams, ponds, and marshes, mainly found on the islands of Kauai and Niihau.

The Hawaiian duck’s diet consists of aquatic plants and small invertebrates. Its status as vulnerable is due to threats from habitat loss, hybridization with introduced mallards, and predation.

8. Hawaiian crow

Hawaiian crow
Hawaiian crow | image by National Archives at College Park – Still Pictures via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific Name: Corvus hawaiiensis

The Hawaiian crow, or ‘Alalā, was native to the islands but is currently extinct in the wild. There are captive populations and reintroduction programs are hoping to someday bring back a wild population. This crow is medium-sized, featuring all-black plumage and a robust bill, distinguished by a loud, unique call.

It originally inhabited the dry and mesic forests on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualālai on the Big Island. They had a versatile diet that includes fruits, nuts, and small animals. The ‘Alalā’s intelligence is notable, but habitat destruction, introduced diseases, and predation by non-native species have led to its extinction in the wild.

9. Hawaiʻi creeper

Hawaiʻi creeper
Hawaiʻi creeper | image by Carter T. Atkinson, U.S. Geological Survey via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific Name: Oreomystis mana

The Hawaiʻi creeper, also known as the ʻAlawī, is a small, inconspicuous bird endemic to the island of Hawaiʻi, reflecting its name from its exclusive distribution within the state. Characterized by its olive-green plumage and unique foraging behavior, it creeps along tree trunks and branches in search of insects.

The bird’s specialized bill is adapted for extracting prey from bark, showcasing its niche role in the ecosystem. Found in native forests at higher elevations, especially in koa and ʻōhiʻa lehua trees, the Hawaiʻi creeper prefers dense habitats with abundant food sources.

10. Kentucky warbler

Kentucky warbler
Kentucky warbler | image by Andrew Weitzel via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Geothlypis formosa

The Kentucky warbler is a small, vibrant bird known for its bright yellow underparts and olive-green back, with a distinctive black pattern around the eyes and crown. This species got its name from the state of Kentucky, where it was first observed and described, though it is not limited to this state.

The Kentucky warbler breeds across the southeastern United States, preferring dense, moist woodlands, especially those with thick undergrowth where it nests on the ground. Unlike most singing male birds that have at least a few songs in the repetoire, the Kentucky warbler only has one song that it will sing for its entire life. They spend winters in Central America and Mexico.

11. Louisiana waterthrush

Louisiana waterthrush
image: Kelly Colgan Azar | Louisiana waterthrush | Flickr | CC 2.0

Scientific Name: Parkesia motacilla

The Louisiana waterthrush is a distinctive bird known for its loud, melodious song and preference for clean, fast-flowing streams where it hunts for insects and small invertebrates. Despite its name, the bird’s range extends well beyond Louisiana; it breeds in the eastern United States, particularly in forested areas with clear water streams, and winters in Central America and the West Indies.

Its name originates from early ornithologists who first described the species from specimens found in Louisiana. Characterized by its white underparts streaked with brown, a white eyebrow stripe, and a habit of bobbing its tail, the Louisiana waterthrush is a strong indicator of healthy aquatic ecosystems.

While they don’t swim, these birds aren’t afraid of getting their feet wet. They often wade along shallow edges, probing for aquatic insects, larvae, worms, minnows and even crayfish and salamanders.

12. Mississippi kite

Mississippi kite
Mississippi kite | image by Robert Nunnally via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Ictinia mississippiensis

The Mississippi kite is just one of the kite species found in the U.S. Their name stems from their prevalence along the Mississippi River, although they are also found in the surrounding areas in the southeastern part of the United States as well as parts of Texas and Oklahoma. After spending summers in the U.S. they head down to South America for the winter.

Their coloration is mix of light and dark grays. They have a pale head and chest, a dark eye patch, and dark wings and tail. Their body shape is slender, and in flight they narrow, pointed wings.

Depending on where they live they eat quite a wide variety. They tend to grab prey while in flight, either snatching large insects from the air or plucking frogs, lizards and snakes from plants. Occasionally they will forage on the ground or in shallow water. 

13. Carolina parakeet

Carolina parakeet
Carolina parakeet | image by Fritz Geller-Grimm via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.5

Scientific Name: Conuropsis carolinensis

The Carolina parakeet, now extinct, was once found in many states in the east, midwest and plains regions. This small parrot boasted a vivid green body, yellow head, and red around the eyes and beak, with no significant color difference between males and females.

Unique for being North America’s only native parrot, it had a strong social structure, often living and feeding in large flocks. These birds inhabited dense forests and swamplands, feeding on seeds, fruits, and sometimes agricultural crops. It is thought that deforestation that occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries was the biggest contributor to their extinction, as well as hunting and possibly disease.  

14. Florida scrub-jay

Florida scrub jay
Florida scrub jay | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Aphelocoma coerulescens

The Florida scrub-jay is a species of bird endemic to the scrublands of Florida. It is notable for its blue and gray plumage, with no significant color difference between males and females. These birds are highly territorial and exhibit fascinating social behaviors, including a cooperative breeding system where offspring from previous broods assist their parents in raising the next generation.

Florida scrub-jays inhabit oak and pine scrublands, environments that are under threat due to development and habitat loss. They rely on this specific habitat for nesting and foraging, primarily eating insects, small animals, and acorns.

15. Virginia rail

Virginia rail
Virginia rail | image: Becky Matsubara | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Rallus limicola

The Virginia rail is a small, secretive bird commonly found across North America, especially in United States marshes and wetlands. The bird was first described by the American ornithologist Alexander Wilson in the early 19th century. The choice to name the bird “Virginia Rail” likely stems from the fact that Wilson encountered or studied the species in or near the state of Virginia. They are found along the eastern side of Virginia year round, but also have a widespread summer presence in many of the states in the northern half of the country, and spend winters along the southern coastline.

These rails have a chicken-shaped body with mottled warm brown plumage, a gray cheek, and orange beak. While viewed from the side they appear rather robust, if you looked at them head-on they are actually rather thin. This helps them weave through marsh vegetation.

Virginia rails are known for their distinctive “kiddick” calls and are more often heard than seen, as they skillfully navigate through dense, reedy habitats. They feed on a diet of insects, aquatic invertebrates, and small fish. 

16. California gull

california gull
California gull | image by Frank Schulenburg via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientific Name: Larus californicus

The California gull is a medium-sized gull found throughout the western United States, particularly along the Pacific Coast, and is known for its adaptability to various habitats, including beaches, lakes, and garbage dumps. These birds possess medium-gray upperparts, slightly darker than those of the Herring Gull, and distinctive red and black markings on their bills.

It takes four years for young gulls to transition from their mostly brown juvenile plumage to the white and gray of adulthood, with their appearance during this time being mottled and untidy. California gulls are omnivorous, feeding on a wide range of food from insects to fish and human refuse, showcasing their versatile diet.

17. Carolina Wren

Carolina wren perching on wood
Carolina wren perching on wood | image by Shenandoah National Park via Flickr

Scientific name: Thryothorus ludovicianus

The Carolina Wren, a small and charismatic bird, familiar to backyard bird watchers along the eastern United States. These medium sized wrens used to be predominately found in the southeast, but have slowly been expanding their range further and further north. Carolina Wrens have rich reddish-brown plumage, expressive white “eyebrows”, and a perky tail often held upright.

One of the most charming aspects of these little birds is their vibrant and melodious song. While the song isn’t complex, it is a bright, clear whistle with a repeated phrase. This wren’s vocalizations can be heard even past the breeding season, being one of the only songbirds that continues to sing in the winter.

Carolina wrens are adept foragers, searching for insects, spiders, and small fruits among the leaf litter and crevices of trees and shrubs. These wrens are also known for nesting in unique locations near homes, including flowerpots, mailboxes, old boots and even hanging baskets. Suet is most attractive to them, but they may also visit seed feeders on occasion.

18. Carolina Chickadee

Carolina chickadee
Image: Shenandoah National Park flickr

Scientific name: Poecile carolinensis

Chickadees are common birds across the country, and the particular species that populates the southeastern U.S. is the Carolina chickadee. These tiny birds that are easy to recognize because of their “black cap” and black chin. Their cheeks are solid white, their wings and backs are gray, and their underbodies are a buffy cream.

Carolina Chickadees got their name from John James Audubon himself, who officially named these birds while in South Carolina. Chickadees are curious birds and fairly bold when it comes to investigating anything they deem interesting. They are very common at bird feeders and are often seen darting back and forth, carrying a seed to a nearby perch to open the shell while holding it between their feet.

19. Connecticut Warbler

Scientific name: Oporornis agilis

The Connecticut Warbler is a charming and elusive warbler, with a scientific name derived from its agile nature. You might expect this to be a common warbler in the state of Connecticut, but its not. The first official specimen of the bird was collected in Connecticut, but they breed in the forests of central Canada and the western Great Lakes during the summer, then spend winters in South America. Their typical migration route doesn’t even include Connecticut!

One of the intriguing aspects of their behavior is their elusive nature. Connecticut Warblers are often challenging to spot due to their preference for staying concealed in the thick vegetation of their habitat. They are known to forage by walking slowly on the ground, seeking insects, spiders, and berries among the leaf litter. Their unique method of flipping leaves with their bills to uncover prey sets them apart from other warbler species.

Adult males have an olive back, yellow belly, and gray head and chest, and a large eye encircled with a white ring. Even while singing during the warm months, males remain on concealed perches. Female appear similar but with duller colors and a browner appearance.

20. Tennessee Warbler

image: Mike’s Birds | Flickr | CC 2.0

Scientific name: Leiothlypis peregrina

Another warbler species named after a state where it doesn’t spend much time! The Tennessee warbler does pass over the state of Tennessee (and most of the eastern half of the U.S.) during migration. This was when the species was first recorded, by a migrating bird found in the state of Tennessee. Their summers are spend in the boreal forests of Canada, and their winters in Central/South America. 

Breeding males have a yellow-green back, pale underparts, and a gray head with a white stripe though the eye. Females look similar with more yellow on the head and throat. These warblers love small caterpillars and as such can help control spruce budworm outbreaks. They build well-concealed nests near the ground, consisting of an outer layer of dead grass and steams, with an inner layer of fine grass and mosses.

21. California Scrub Jay

California Scrub Jay
California Scrub Jay | image by Becky Matsubara via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Aphelocoma californica

The California scrub jay is found in dry lowland areas throughout the Pacific seaboard where they remain year-round. In the warmer months they eat mainly insects and fruits, then switch to nuts and seeds in the fall and winter. Acorns are a favorite, so you are likely to find them in oak habitats. 

These lanky birds are a rich blue in color with a soft gray underside and a patch on their upper back that is either gray or brown. They are known for having a boisterous personality, both with frequent vocalizations and the way they bounce around and always seem to be cocking their heads.

You can attract them to your backyard feeders with the help of peanuts and sunflower seeds. They also like to build their nests in native shrubs that are dense or small native trees.

22. Hawaiian Goose

Hawaiian goose
Hawaiian goose | image by Jörg Hempel via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Branta sandvicensis

The Hawaiian Goose, also known as the Nene, is a medium-sized goose species native to Hawaii. These geese have a black face, buffy cheek patch, and barred brown and cream body. Their neck feathers have a unique look, with deep grooves and ridges that give it the appearance of brown streaks.

It is believed that this species evolved from the Canada Goose, which likely wound up in Hawaii 500,000 years ago.  They are threatened by habitat loss and degradation, as well as by introduced species such as rats and mongooses that prey on their eggs and young. However in the 1950’s there were only about 30 left, and today there are a few thousand thanks to reintroduction programs and protections. 

While you’ll find most goose species near water, the Hawaiian Goose has adapted for a life completely on land. They are able to swim, but don’t need to and don’t rely on a water habitat. Food consists of grasses, seeds and plants they graze from the ground.

23. Hawaiian Hawk

hawaiian hawk
Hawaiian Hawk | image by Bettina Arrigoni via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Buteo solitarius

There is only one hawk native to the Hawaiian islands, the Hawaiian hawk. Their native name is ‘Io. Today, this hawk can only be found on the Big Island, however there is fossil evidence that suggests at one time they were found on many of the islands. 

They can have quite a wide range of color variation. In general there are two color morphs, light and dark. The dark morph is a dark brown pretty much all over. The light morph has a dark brown head, back and wings, but a light chest and belly. However the light morph can also have a fully white head, or a “golden” head that is light with a pale orange hue.

These hawks tend to perch and look for prey. It is believed that historically, before the arrival of the Polynesians to the islands, these hawks hunted for ducks and rails because Hawaii did not have many of its own native mammals. But with increased human traffic to the island, many animals have been introduced that the hawk now hunts, including rats, mongoose, insects, lizards and game birds. 

24. Virginia’s Warbler

virginias warbler
Virginia’s Warbler | image by Alan Schmierer via Flickr

Scientific name: Leiothlypis virginiae

Another bird with a somewhat misleading name, Virginia’s warblers spend summers in the U.S. southwest and winters in Mexico, never traveling near the state of Virginia. Since it had the name Virginia we thought we’d include it in our list, however this bird is named after a person. It was named after Virginia Anderson, wife of ornithologist Charles Anderson, in the mid 1800’s.

Adults have dark gray upper-parts, pale gray underparts, with a pop of yellow at the throat and under the tail. They also have a notable white eye-ring, and a tendency to wag their tail up and down. Both males and females share this coloration.

This species is primarily found in arid and semi-arid habitats, favoring open woodlands, shrubby areas, and mountainous terrain. Virginia’s Warblers are known for their preference for dense vegetation, and they are often found in chaparral, pinyon-juniper woodlands, and areas with a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees.

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