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What Is Alabama’s State Bird? How Was It Decided?

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yellowhammer perched on tree

Each state in the United States is unique in its own way, from the landscape and climate to the culture and even the diversity of people and animals that live there. But another way that states show their uniqueness is through the adoption of state nicknames, flowers, and even birds.

For Alabama, the 22nd state to join the United States, the state bird is one that no other state has. It’s the Northern flicker, more commonly known to Alabamians as the Yellowhammer. Keep reading to learn more about what a Yellowhammer is and why it was chosen as Alabama’s official state bird.

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What Is A Yellowhammer?

The Yellowhammer is a species of woodpecker that is more commonly known as the Northern flicker. Although there are many other species of woodpecker in the United States, the Yellowhammer is quite unique in its appearance. There are actually two varieties of Northern flicker, one that lives primarily in the Eastern US and one that lives in the Western US.

Even these two flicker varieties look different from one another. However, only the Northern Flicker that lives in the Eastern US is called a Yellowhammer. And, the Yellowhammer looks drastically different from other common species of woodpeckers that are found in the US, such as the downy and hairy woodpeckers and the red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers.

yellowhammer wandering around

Image Credit: L0nd0ner, Pixabay

Characteristics of the Yellowhammer

The Yellowhammer is much larger than other woodpecker species, and its size is described as “between a robin and a crow.” It ranges between 11 and 12 inches in length and has a wingspan between 16 and 20 inches.

Speaking of the wingspan, it’s actually due to this that the Yellowhammer got its name. When the bird is in flight, you’ll be able to see that the underside of the wings and tail are bright yellow (or red in flickers that live in the Western US). Of course, the “hammer” part comes from the way that the birds hammer on trees in search of food.

More distinguishing characteristics of the Yellowhammer are its light brown body with black spots, brown and black striped wings, brown head with a bluish-gray cap and nape, and a bright red patch on the back of its head. Other woodpecker species are primarily black and white with red patches, which is how the Yellowhammer can be so easily differentiated from these other species. The bottom line is that you’ll know a Yellowhammer when you see one.

yellowhammer perched on a fence

Image Credit: sdm2019, Pixabay

How Was the Yellowhammer Chosen?

Whether you’re new to the state of Alabama or have lived in the state a while, you may be wondering how the Yellowhammer was chosen as the official state bird. It’s a valid question since many people have never even heard of it let alone know that it’s a type of woodpecker.

Before we get into why the Yellowhammer was chosen as the state bird, you should also know that the nickname for Alabama is the “Yellowhammer State.” Alabama is one of the only states in which the state nickname is the same as the state bird. As you can probably guess, there’s a reason for this, and it boils down to one of the most pivotal events in American history.

The Civil War 

Alabama was called the “Yellowhammer State” long before the Yellowhammer was officially declared as the state bird. The state nickname actually dates back to the Civil War, the infamous war fought between the Northern and Southern United States over slavery laws.

Just in case you’re unfamiliar, during the Civil War, the Northern states were known as the Union while the Southern states were known as the Confederacy. Alabama played a significant role in the Civil War with Montgomery, Alabama even serving as the capital of the Confederacy at one point.

So how did the name “yellowhammer” come about? It stemmed from the new uniforms that a cavalry of Confederate soldiers wore. Unlike the older uniforms that were faded and worn, these new uniforms had bright yellow cloth on the collars, sleeves, and coattails that contrasted sharply with the rest of the uniform, which was gray. The coloring of the uniform looked similar to the Yellowhammer bird.

The soldiers wearing the new uniforms earned the name “the Yellowhammer Company,” which was eventually shortened to just “Yellowhammers.” The name was quickly and “unofficially” adopted and used to refer to all Confederate troops from Alabama. It caught on so much that Civil War veterans from Alabama began to wear Yellowhammer feathers in their lapels at reunions. All of these events lead to Alabama’s nickname, “The Yellowhammer State.”

yellowhammer perched

Image Credit: Erik_Karits, Pixabay

Adopting the State Bird

Since the yellowhammer name became so popular during the Civil War and eventually gave way to the state’s nickname, Alabama eventually decided that adopting the Yellowhammer as the state bird was quite fitting.

But it wasn’t until 1927, around 60 years after the Civil War, that the Yellowhammer became the official state bird of Alabama. On September 6, 1927, the Governor of Alabama at the time, Bibb Graves, passed the bill declaring the Northern flicker, aka the Yellowhammer, as the state bird.

Having the Yellowhammer as the state bird is something that most Alabamians take great pride in. In fact, there’s so much pride in this bird that the University of Alabama adopted the cheer and song “Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer,” which the school’s band plays during football victories over rival schools, and the supporting fans chant quite loudly.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. The state bird of Alabama is a species of woodpecker called the Northern flicker but known to Alabamians (and others in the Southern US) as the Yellowhammer. Although the bird is quite common in the US, you have to admit that it’s still an interesting choice for a state bird. But, there’s a good reason why the bird is not only the official state bird, but also the state nickname as well, and Alabamians take great pride in this unique woodpecker.

Related Read: 19 Types of Ducks Found in Alabama (With Pictures)


Featured Image Credit: 9436196, Pixabay

About the Author Savanna Stanfield

Savanna is a former science teacher who is now a full-time freelance writer currently living in the United States with her husband and daughter. Other members of her family include a long-haired chihuahua named Penny, three cats, and an aquatic turtle named Creek. In addition to writing, her passions include gardening, traveling, and protecting our wildlife and natural resources.

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