Desktop Explorer #2: The Most Unique Birds in Each State


The making of American Bison as the official national animal had me revisiting Nick Lund’s post on what each state bird should be. Subsequently seeing one of those infographics about the most unique search terms in every state made the light bulb go off in my head. What are the most uniquely seen birds in each state?

First, let’s look at what the official state birds are:

State Birds.PNG
The Birdist is definitely on to something, as fully two thirds of all states share their official bird with at least one other state. In the case of the states that went with Northern Cardinal, the choice is egregiously bad. Fun fact: I have lived in five different states, but the only state bird I have ever known is the ubiquitous cardinal.

If the official birds are not unique enough for each state, perhaps some other way of looking at things will yield better results. How about the most frequently observed (or most frequently reported in eBird) species in each state?
Frequent Birds.PNG
Okay, so this is even worse than the official birds. Northern Cardinal triples its domain and blows up the Midwest, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic, with only West Virginia and DC as islands of respite. Only seven states have unique birds as their most frequently seen. Although It is interesting to note that the official state birds of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia are also those states’ most frequently seen birds.

This is clearly not what we are after. So I figured out each state’s most “unique” bird.

I took the average frequency of sighting for all species in each state, and then took an average across all states. This provides the frequency that each species is seen in the “average” state. Then, I compared the frequency of a species in a particular state against this national average (note: not the ABA area average) to arrive at its very unscientific “uniqueness score.” The higher the score, the more unique to that state the bird is. A bird with a score of 10.00 for any given state would be seen 10 times more frequently in that state than in the average state. A bird with a score of 51.00 (50 states plus DC) represents a species that has been observed only in that state.

After coming up with a score for each species in each state, I then removed introduced and extinct species and anything with an observation rate below 0.5%, which effectively eliminates accidental vagrants and other super-rare birds. In the case where two birds have the same score in one state, the one with a higher frequency of observation is declared to be the most unique. In the case where multiple states share the same bird, the state where the bird has the highest score gets the bird, and the other state moves to its second (or third) highest scoring bird.

So, here are each state’s most unique birds:

State Unique Bird Score
Alabama Whooping Crane 12.13
Alaska Crested Auklet 51.00
Arizona Rufous-winged Sparrow 50.88
Arkansas Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 8.43
California California Thrasher 51.00
Colorado Brown-capped Rosy-Finch 26.51
Connecticut Saltmarsh Sparrow 4.17
Delaware Seaside Sparrow 12.95
District of Columbia Fish Crow 5.00
Florida Florida Scrub-Jay 50.88
Georgia Brown-headed Nuthatch 12.52
Hawaii Apapane 51.00
Idaho California Quail 12.31
Illinois Golden-winged Warbler 4.05
Indiana Henslow’s Sparrow 8.94
Iowa Dickcissel 4.04
Kansas Lesser Prairie-Chicken 33.31
Kentucky Yellow-throated Warbler 4.34
Louisiana Fulvous Whistling-Duck 17.72
Maine Atlantic Puffin 46.73
Maryland Acadian Flycatcher 3.70
Massachusetts Manx Shearwater 15.80
Michigan Kirtland’s Warbler 34.76
Minnesota Great Gray Owl 13.56
Mississippi Purple Gallinule 12.93
Missouri Kentucky Warbler 5.13
Montana Dusky Grouse 11.97
Nebraska Greater Prairie-Chicken 18.71
Nevada Sagebrush Sparrow 20.85
New Hampshire Bicknell’s Thrush 25.24
New Jersey Brant 8.95
New Mexico Chihuahuan Raven 31.22
New York Great Black-backed Gull 3.41
North Carolina Audubon’s Shearwater 24.83
North Dakota Baird’s Sparrow 26.94
Ohio Bay-breasted Warbler 4.09
Oklahoma Black-capped Vireo 38.59
Oregon Hermit Warbler 22.83
Pennsylvania Wood Thrush 2.94
Rhode Island Great Cormorant 17.32
South Carolina Wood Stork 11.13
South Dakota Sharp-tailed Grouse 12.49
Tennessee Eastern Towhee 3.88
Texas Green Jay 51.00
Utah California Gull 10.53
Vermont Alder Flycatcher 7.48
Virginia Carolina Chickadee 2.90
Washington Rhinoceros Auklet 32.26
West Virginia Cerulean Warbler 7.94
Wisconsin Sandhill Crane 6.47
Wyoming Greater Sage-Grouse 18.33

Unique Birds.PNG

Some of these are pretty intuitive, but others not so much. It would be pretty easy to guess that Maine’s bird seen at the greatest rate compared to the national average is Atlantic Puffin. But what about Acadian Flycatchers in Maryland?

It’s also interesting to note that Utah is the only state in which its most unique bid is also its official state bird. But, it’s a bird named after a different state. You can do better, Utah.


Bicycle Blitz

My office closed early on Friday because we were having the carpets cleaned. So instead of working until noon, I took the morning off too and did what any normal person would do with all of that free time: go on an 8.5 hour, 45-mile bike ride around the county hitting all of the major birding spots along the way.

I left home before sunrise to make it to Eagle Marsh by 6:30am to meet up with Rodger, one of Fort Wayne’s wisest birding sages. I had a bunch of summer marsh birds to pick up, but my real goal of the morning was rails.



We hit on my biggest target bird in Sora. This is actually a life bird for me (I don’t count heard-only birds), and one individual actually showed itself for about a minute or two for me to fire off some photos despite the poor morning light. It is also my 200th Indiana species.


Marsh Wren

A Marsh Wren popped up directly in front of me to gather some cattail fluff for an assumed nest.


Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbirds are pretty in a different way than their men.


Great Blue Heron

More love for common birds.


Bald Eagle

A visit to Eagle Marsh wouldn’t be complete without a sighting of its namesake species, in this case getting its tower buzzed.

I finished at the marsh and made my way alone to Fox Island for some woodland birds.

Fox Island.JPG

Fox Island

There were disappointingly few migrants around, but the scenery was gorgeous. On other days, Fox Island also serves as the gates to Mosquito Hell, but they were almost non-existent when I showed up.


Indigo Bunting

The most numerous bird of the day had to be Indigo Bunting.


Acadian Flycatcher

Despite the (lack of) lighting, I like the way this Acadian Flycatcher turned out. Without hearing their song, this picture shows about everything you need to identify one, anyway.

Baby Raccoon.JPG

Baby Raccoon

I thought that the movement inside of this hollow snag was an owl at first. It turned out to be a nest of a different kind.

I ate my lunch on the deck of the nature center and refilled my water before trekking out on the last third of my day. Rather than having a specific destination, the afternoon was reserved for traveling country roads in search of grassland and shore birds.

Woodpecker Habitat.JPG

A productive field

I rode past a field that is famous for attracting all manner of shorebirds, but found nothing there except for one single species feeding in the mud.


Red-headed Woodpecker

Yes, it was a Red-headed Woodpecker, because that makes sense, right? When I approached, it flew up to the lone utility pole stuck in the middle of the field. But trust me, this thing was acting like a damn sandpiper. Birding is weird. Red-headed Woodpecker is a county bird for me. They are regular in Allen County year-round but not very common, so it’s kind of a crap shoot to see one. Dumb luck paid off.

Farm Fresh.JPG

Farm Fresh

Just up the road from the woodpecker I put on the brakes for a flock of turkeys that I thought were eating under a bird feeder in a yard. On second look, just kidding, not wild. Oh well.

The day ended up being incredibly great (and tiring). I ended with 70 species, 17 of which were new green year birds for a list-to-date of 123. This is about four months ahead of my pace from last year without any rarities supplementing the list. Plus I slew my two heard-only nemeses from 2015: Eastern Towhee and Wood Thrush. I expect that the count will slow down considerably from here, but I missed several target birds that I will go back for. I also still haven’t seen a hummingbird yet this year. Again, birding is weird. But good!

Birds with Kids

Birding has come in short bursts recently, usually in the morning for an hour or so before everyone else is up. With cold temperatures all weekend, this actually proved advantageous for seeing migrants close-up. Bugs aren’t flying when it’s frosty out, so everyone was close to the ground. I got over the century mark and then some on my green list, something that didn’t happen until July last year.

So with great success on Saturday, I took a more relaxed approach to the birds today and did so with company.


“I want to see a starling, Dad.”

Walter and I took a ride around Foster Park with the explicitly stated purpose of seeing birds, and he was pretty cool with it. At less than three years old, he can identify crows by sight and usually points them out before I can get to them. He will also tell you that his favorite bird is the Rested-bread Nuthatch.


“There is an alligator. It’s crawling around up there.”

He would excitedly ask “where?” every time I tried to point out a bird. He also asked me to launch him into the river (his idea, not tried). Needless to say, our list was small but the outing was a lot of fun.


Our Setup

I will take this time to plug the Burley Honeybee, which is an awesome trailer if you also have small people that you want to take out some time.


American Redstart

We did actually see some birds, too. American Redstarts are bountiful this year.


Northern Flicker

A loud group of guys teed off behind this flicker, which was foraging on the golf course and not caring.


Red-eyed Vireo

The footbridge at Foster came up big again, with a Red-eyed Vireo at eye level and arm’s length. I played around with the flash on my camera and thought this shot came out interestingly.


Rose-breasted Grosbeak

There were other kids around this weekend, too. A super awkward-looking first spring Rose-breasted Grosbeak was hanging out in our yard. Just look at this picture. From the hideous molt to the old-man eyebrows to the electric line and vinyl siding behind, this is a disgusting photo, and I like it.



Another kid of sorts. This bunny lives in the hostas by our garage and comes out two or three times daily, which is just enough to make one go “squeeee!”



Squirrel for scale.


Eastern Chipmunk

And while we’re talking about tiny mammals. It seems like any time chipmunks are mentioned or observed, someone will talk about the best and most novel way to murder them. A few missing strawberries are not that big of a deal in my opinion. Even Walter agrees.

New Feature! Desktop Explorer #1

My love of birds and my professional life don’t intersect much except in the lucky instances where work travel permits me to see a few cool species. However, they do share one big similarity: maps.

When I am looking for new birding spots with tree cover and water nearby, perusing eBird to see where a desired species can be found, or trying to find out who owns a property to ask permission to bird on it, I am checking out maps. Likewise, my job in the real estate development world has me frequently digging up as much information as I can on a locality before I visit it in person by way of maps provided by Google, county assessors, various federal agencies, and others.

To break up the sometimes monotonous “I went here, I saw this” format of my blog, I present to you the first of what I hope becomes an ongoing feature: Desktop Explorer! Yes, it is as nerdy as it sounds: looking at maps on a computer to gain new insights on places. Maps can tell you a lot of things about land use trends, environmental factors, local culture, and why certain decisions were made for the way things are laid out. I think all of these things are interesting in general, but also relevant to my hobby.

In the first installment, I will offer a neighborhood that I frequently pass by in Fort Wayne known as Lincoln Park. From above, it is a pretty typical neighborhood with some commercial and industrial areas bordering it, but also a large undeveloped tract of woods:

FW Lincoln Park Aerial

Wondering what was going on, I pulled up the city’s GIS (Geographic Information System) which is an incredibly useful tool.

FW Lincoln Park Parcels

This revealed the underlying plat and parcels beneath the trees. The original shape of the subdivision is evident here, but it was never developed. This is an older neighborhood surrounded by other development, so the lack of anything going on here is strange. Most of the unbuilt lots are also owned by the city. One more quick look at a FEMA map just to check my suspicion confirmed it:

FW Lincoln Park Flood Map

Flood zone city. Bingo. It’s kind of strange that the developer here would have gone to the trouble of buying land and platting lots in a 100-year floodplain (1% chance of catastrophic flood annually), but that is exactly where those ghost parcels are. Someone was sloppy, or something crazy happened soon after everything was planned.

Sometimes, though, you don’t need the Federal Emergency Management Agency to tell you where it floods.

Foster Flood

This an aerial of Foster Park taken some time last summer that shows the extent of the flooding from consecutive heavy storms. The brown encroaching into the golf course and ball fields is mud that washed in when they were submerged for several weeks.

If you have stayed with me this long, thank you. To make it up to you, I will tell you why knowing about flood trends and their effects on property might be of interest.


Baltimore Oriole

In the case of Foster Park, it is some great riparian habitat where birds like this Baltimore Oriole thrive. But more interestingly…


Black-necked Stilt

Flooded areas, like this agricultural field, are some of the best places to find the unexpected. I had my county Black-necked Stilts in a place just like that today. I didn’t have enough time to bike out to see them, but I managed to squeeze them in on a trip to the grocery store. And I wouldn’t have found them without the aide of a map, either.

Trailbirds: Hiking and Biking

A new event hosted by Fort Wayne Trails is the Early Bird Nature Walk and Bike Ride. It is geared toward amateurs of both birding and biking, and I participated in the second event yesterday. Despite the damp and cool conditions, about ten hardy souls met at the Wells Street bridge to use the city’s trail system in pursuit of birds.


Urban Birders

The beginning part of the event was an urban hike along the St. Mary’s River downtown, which turned up many good birds including several first-of-the-years. The second part was a bike ride that traversed much better habitat and produced some pretty great results.


Blue-headed Vireo

The route took us about four miles downriver to Foster Park, where we were treated to some incredible looks by a radioactive male Scarlet Tanager, which is probably one of the best birds possible to get first-timers interested. In a small mixed flock including said tanager, I also managed to pull out my lifer Blue-headed Vireo. This is the first motorless lifer I have had this year, and I am pretty sure it’s my first lifer at Foster Park as well. It is also Indiana bird 199.


Yellow-rumped Warbler

Much of the group also had their first warbler experience. Specifically, they learned how difficult they can be to actually see and identify. Fortunately we were treated to point-blank looks at a few Yellow-rumps.


Eponymous Butterbutt

The field mark of this bird was readily evident.


American Goldfinch

We only get one flavor of goldfinch in the Midwest, but the group was very appreciative of a bird I often overlook.


Swainson’s Thrush

After the ride had ended and a friend and I had some requisite Pint and Slice for lunch, I rode back through Foster on my way home. I picked up a few more annuals that the group had missed, including this Swainson’s Thrush and a stunning singing male Blackburnian Warbler, which was a county bird for me.

The Clearing.JPG

Foster Park

I ended my afternoon with 43 species, with 13 new green year birds including one lifer which brings my list to 94. Most of these were seen in a disused corner of the park that includes a rotting picnic pavilion. Apparently the trails through Foster used to be paved roads that attracted cruisers and teenagers. Luckily for me and the birds, it is foot traffic only now and quiet enough that we stumbled upon two Cooper’s Hawks actively tending a nest close by.



Not bird related but still worth mentioning is the raccoon that was raiding our feeder before I left for the ride. I didn’t mind too much because he was finishing off some old stale seed.

The Lookout.JPG

The Lookout

He employed a friend to make sure the coast was clear. Teamwork, because there is no ‘I’ in ‘raccoon’ or ‘bunny.’


Wild Turkey

To bring things back around to birds, and because I have nowhere else to put it, I will end with this Wild Turkey. I encountered this fellow at work last week and had to decelerate more rapidly than I would have liked to avoid hitting him. I usually only see turkeys from the interstate where stopping is more frowned upon, so this time I seized the opportunity to fire off a couple shots while he crossed the road in front of me. He was also only about 200 yards from the county line, so this was another county bird this week, although I wish I could add it to my green list.