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.



4 thoughts on “Desktop Explorer #2: The Most Unique Birds in Each State

  1. I have been debating were to go for a fall birding trip. Your analysis settles it – New Mexico. I have always wanted to see a Chihuahuan Raven. Ok, maybe not that bad. But I want to came home and be able to say I saw a Chihuahuan Raven like I enjoyed telling everyone I saw a Plain Chachalaca in Texas. It rolls off your tongue.

    Fun analysis.

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