Flying into our history: How the American Goldfinch became the state bird of Iowa

When it comes to state symbols, Iowa has its fair share. From the geode being the state rock, to the oak tree being the state tree, we have just about everything covered. Something one might not realize however, is that the state of Iowa did not have a state bird until 1932, when members of the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union met at their 10th annual convention in Des Moines, Iowa.

Image of a female goldfinch in her nest

Female Goldfinch printed on a lantern slide,
photographed by Walter Rosene in
McGregor, Iowa on 08/15/1936.

There, the Goldfinch was nominated, and the nomination was then brought to the House by Representative J. Wilbur Dole, a member of the IOU at the time. Dole introduced a Resolution to the House, which was then adopted by both the House and the Senate. Iowa officially had a state bird.

The idea of selecting a state bird had been presented prior to the annual meeting of the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union in 1932. In 1926, the IOU began to think of possible ideas for a state bird. A letter sent out on February 6, 1926 by IOU president Walter Rosene informed the members that discussions were being made for a selection, and that the current favorite bird was Western Meadow Lark. The letter also assures the members that there has been no official action taken yet, and if anyone had an idea for the bird, to send them his way. On April 1, 1926 in the next organization wide letter written by Rosene, members were informed that he requires more suggestions for the state bird before action could take place. The suggestions that were mailed in included the Downy Woodpecker, Chickadee, and the American Goldfinch.

Four young American Goldfinches on a branch.

Young American Goldfinches, photographed by Walter Rosene and printed on a lantern slide.

In 1927, a committee of IOU members were given the task of finding a way to select the state bird. The committee proposed the idea that the school children of Iowa should be the ones to select the state bird. In their proposal, they suggest that members of the IOU gather a list of five or six birds, and then those lists would be complied, and the top five birds would be sent to schools in every county. Each county superintendent would then distribute the lists within their schools. They suggested that since March 21st was Bird Day by Iowa law, that would be the perfect day for the children to vote.

The votes would then be counted, and the winning bird would then become the official state bird. For unknown reasons, this plan never made it to the school children of Iowa, and the state of Iowa was left without a state bird for another five years.

Many members of the IOU felt that the state bird should be one who was found in Iowa year round. After a few years of silence on the topic of selecting a state bird, the idea was again brought up the the IOU during one of their meetings. When the vote took place in 1932, many members were in favor of the American Goldfinch, including famous Iowa Ornithologists Althea Sherman and Walter Rosene. After the American Goldfinch passed the House and Senate, on March 22, 1932 the state of Iowa officially adopted the American Goldfinch as the state bird, and became the first of three states to name the American Goldfinch as the official state bird. So the next time you are out exploring, take a minute to search for our beautiful state bird, the American Goldfinch.