Wyoming Needs a New State Bird

Updated: Aug 28

Let me start with a succinct statement: I have NOTHING against the Western Meadowlark. It is a great-looking bird with a loud, delightful song. It is easily recognized by the average non-bird person. (Though it gets confused with the Horned Lark, far more than it should.) Regardless, it is NOT the ideal bird to represent Wyoming. The Greater Sage-Grouse is. Here's why.

Greater Sage-Grouse Inflating Gular Sacs on Lek / Photo: Bob Wick, BLM/Public Domain

Overuse of the Western Meadowlark as a State Bird


Let's begin with the overuse of the Western Meadowlark as a state bird. Currently, six states list the Western Meadowlark as their avian representative. Those states are Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Kansas, Oregon, and Wyoming. Yeah, Wikipedia even lists Wyoming as last. LAST! Jerks. And does Wyoming really want to share anything with a state like Kansas? KANSAS?! No, I say! Wyoming, unlike those other "meh" states, is unique. It deserves its own unique, state bird.



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Tough Wyoming Birds


Next, we are going to talk toughness. Want to know what tough looks like? Imagine a ground-dwelling species surviving all twelve months of the year, in the state of Wyoming. They do not just live in the Big Empty, they survive in the sagebrush ecosystem. The sagebrush steppe is a harsh, unforgiving hellscape that most Wyomingites avoid November through March. What does the Western Meadowlark do during those months? It runs like the little Icterid it is. (Because most breeding Icterids [Blackbirds] in Wyoming likely migrate away from the state.) Here are some graphs to illustrate this point:


Greater Sage-Grouse Frequency in Wyoming *

Western Meadowlark Frequency in Wyoming *

See that? Western Meadowlarks are fair-weather fans. They come to Wyoming for the summer fun, then flee the state as October ends. The Greater Sage-Grouse is a pillar in the Cowboy State throughout the year. (Though it is a difficult species to find outside of lek and/or chick season.)


Check out our guide to birding in Yellowstone National Park!



Residency of Greater Sage-Grouse


It's time for some numbers: where does the greatest percentage of each bird's population reside? For the Western Meadowlark's population of ~100,000,000 individuals, the state with the greatest percentage of the total population is (drumroll), Montana! Montana comes in hosting 16% of the population, while Wyoming hosts ~6.5%. That is not bad, not bad. For a true Wyoming champion, the Greater Sage-Grouse, Wyoming hosts close to 40% of the population with an estimated population between 150,000 and 450,000 individuals.



The World Needs More Sage-Grouse


I'm not making a political (or other) statement. I am poking fun at a controversy sparked by the University of Wyoming's slogan, "The World Needs More Cowboys." As for my actual point, the world needs more Greater Sage-Grouse, and not simply because we need to help a species that humans have permanently impacted. Because like Wyomingites, Greater Sage-Grouse know where to draw the line. Take a look at the two sage-grouse in the video below. They have a disagreement, it leads to a kerfuffle, they draw the line, and return to the important work at hand (mating and whatnot). Just like Wyomingites. And I'm only pandering, slightly.




Conclusions on the Wyoming State Bird


There you have it. Wyoming needs a state bird that is representative of who its residents are as a people. A representative of what it means to live in what can feel like a barren, wind tunnel. The Greater Sage-Grouse is that bird. Wyomingites unite! Announce this call to those who represent You. It is time for a change! It is time for Sage-Grouse!


Seriously, I don't actually know how to change a state bird. I'm sure there is an abundant amount of bureaucracy (or birdeaucracy), but it would be well worth it!



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Credits/References

Frequency Graphics: Provided by eBird (www.ebird.org) and created March 19, 2019.
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