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

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american goldfinch perched on a branch

In 1951, a vote by school children decided on the American Goldfinch as the state bird for Washington. With their vibrant yellow, black, and white plumage, they’re an eye-catching breed and a favorite for bird watchers all over the U.S.A. The American Goldfinch is so popular that they’re also the state bird for Iowa and New Jersey.  

hummingbird divider

What Is the American Goldfinch?

Also known as the Willow Goldfinch, the American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) commonly joins flocks of Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls. They’re a common sight throughout the U.S.A.

american goldfinch perching on a tree branch
Image Credit: Veronika_Andrews, Pixabay


The American Goldfinch is most easily identified during the breeding season. Their bright-yellow plumage is what gives these birds their name and makes them a vibrant addition to the birds flocking around your bird feeder.

Along with their bright feathers, the breeding males also have striking black-and-white markings on their foreheads, wings, and tail, along with bright-orange bills. The male’s bright-yellow coloring is also seen as one of the first signs of approaching warmer weather after the winter months. Breeding females share the same yellow color as the males but are slightly duller.

In comparison, non-breeding males and females are less vibrantly colored. While they have the same black markings on their wings and tails — albeit more subtle in color — the non-breeding males and immature birds are a soft brown.


Unlike many other bird species, the American Goldfinch is a strict vegetarian. They feed primarily on seeds from dandelions, sunflowers, and thistles. The few insects that they eat are usually accidental.

Their diet often means any other bird species that may hatch in their nest — like the Brown-Headed Cowbird — don’t survive long due to their inability to live on the same seed-oriented meal plan. This diet frequently makes the American Goldfinch a regular visitor at seed-filled bird feeders, especially during the winter, when food is scarce.


Found throughout Washington all year round, the American Goldfinch is a common sight in open woodland areas. They tend to avoid dense forests but can be spotted nesting in shrubberies and feeding in fields.

american goldfinch perching on metal bar
Image Credit: milesmoody, Pixabay

The History of Washington’s State Bird

The American Goldfinch wasn’t the first or even the only contender for Washington’s state bird. It won out over the Meadowlark, Tanager, Song Sparrow, Junco, and the Pileated Woodpecker.

Despite the American Goldfinch becoming the official state bird, the final decision wasn’t an easy one to make. Most of the early to mid-1900s was spent choosing the best species for the position.


School children first started the decision-making process. State legislators at the time allowed the children to choose the bird that would represent the state. Their decision landed firmly on the Western Meadowlark.

This was only the start of the decision-making process, however, and the popularity of the bird convinced the legislators to reconsider the choice. Oregon had just chosen the meadowlark as its own state bird, and five other states — Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming — had claimed the bird as their state symbol too.


Unsatisfied by the result of the first vote, Washington state legislators gave the decision to the Washington Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1931. At this point, several birds were chosen as options. The Junco, Pileated Woodpecker, Song Sparrow, and Tanager were all competitors against the American Goldfinch.

In the end, the American Goldfinch won the debate over the other birds. Instead of choosing immediately, the Legislators allowed both the American Goldfinch and the Western Meadowlark to play the part of the state bird for several years.

American Goldfinch
Image Credit: milesmoody, Pixabay


The final decision fell back onto the shoulders of school children. With both the Western Meadowlark and the American Goldfinch dueling for the position of the state bird, the choice was to be decided by another vote.

In 1951, the American Goldfinch won over the Meadowlark. With the final decision made, the bill was passed by the Senate and House, then finally signed by the governor. By the end of March, the American Goldfinch was the official state bird of Washington, and they’ve been in that position ever since.


Chosen in 1951, the official state bird of Washington is the American Goldfinch. The bird won the vote over several other bird species native to Washington, including the Tanager, Sparrow, Woodpecker, and Junco. It also beat the Western Meadowlark, a popular choice for several other states and the original decision by Washington’s schoolchildren.

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Featured Image Credit: JackBulmer, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.