Saturday morning hot take: Should the Red-headed Woodpecker replace the Northern Cardinal as Illinois' state bird? I know, I know, it's a controversial position--how can we just dispose of the brilliant Cardinals that grace the backyards and neighborhoods all around us. But yet that is what one of Illinois' pre-eminent ornithologists has suggested.
Here's Doug Stotz, Senior Conservation Ecologist at Keller Science Action Center at the Field Museum.
"There isn't really a bird when you hear their name, you're like 'Illinois,'" says Doug, citing examples like the Greater Roadrunner in New Mexico and the Cactus Wren in Arizona. "Red-headed Woodpecker comes close. We're at the heart of its range. It's a common bird here, they breed here and are common in winter. They're really common in the woodlands in southern Illinois. They're the characteristic bird of the oak savanna, which represents our state tree, the White Oak. And it's a spectacular bird."
Doug has argued for the Red-headed Woodpecker as state bird in the past, even proposing it to then-Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn years ago. Last year, he participated in a panel organized by Morton Arboretum, arguing for the Red-headed Woodpecker. Another birder argued for the Bobolink and another for the status quo.
Let's face it, though, six other states also have Northern Cardinal as their state bird. Though the birds are readily accessible to ornithologists and non-ornithologists alike, their status as state bird may not have been very inspired.
"We would be the only state with the Red-headed Woodpecker, and woodpeckers are underrepresented as a state bird," Doug says. "Red-headed Woodpecker is a good emblem of oak woodlands and oak savannas and they are a bird that really responds to habitat restoration."
What of the proposal to the Lieutenant Governor?
"He was interested," Doug says. "But then he became Governor and had other things to do."
Fair enough, and maybe a pandemic isn't the time to breathe life back into the concept. But many of us do have the idle time to contemplate the idea once again.