The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School


Mike Dukakis Weighs in On Virginia State Bird


The Virginian Nightingale recieves bipartisan support

Peerawut Ruangsawasdi

Staff Writer

Following an editorial arguing for the reselection of the Virginia state bird by Theogony editor Ethan Gotsch, Theogony reached out to several politicians, including the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis, for their views on the northern cardinal being the Virginia state bird. 

“I think states should pick the bird they admire the most,” said Dukakis. “Massachusetts, as you point out, decided on the chickadee, and when I was governor, we used it to greet people as they arrived in the state. Maybe Virginia should do the same thing!” 

The black-capped chickadee, photo courtesy of Sheila Brown

The black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) was designated the state bird of Massachusetts in 1941. The chickadee is also the state bird of Maine, as well as the provincial bird of New Brunswick in Canada. It is a small, non-migratory songbird found across the northern United States and southern Canada. 

The northern cardinal. Photo courtesy of Sheila Brown

The northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) was designated the state bird of Virginia in 1950. It is the most popular state bird in the nation, with seven states choosing it to be their state bird. 

There is widespread bipartisan support for retaining the state bird.

“I have always been happy that Virginia has selected the northern cardinal,” said former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, “It is a beautiful and elegant bird, and the male having the deep red color always made it stand out among other birds. As a young football player at my high school, our mascot was the cardinal, and I liked the bright red cardinal on my football helmet… I would not change a thing.”

“I love the proud, inquisitive cardinal and would not favor replacing it as our state bird,” said Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25), who faced McDonnell in two elections, once in 2005 in the race for attorney general, and again in the 2009 gubernatorial race.

“I had not realized that our choice was so common, so not unique,” said U.S Representative Don Beyer (VA-8), “Maybe this is not a surprise, since we got stuck on one plant for both our State Flower and our State Tree.

 “But the cardinal is so classically Virginian. I must believe that our selection preceded the selections of those other, unimaginative states.”

Virginia was the last of seven states to declare the northern cardinal their state bird.

 “I am pondering congressional legislation forcing Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia to choose new State Birds (joking). This seems a fairer and more appropriate alternative than abandoning our commitment to the lovely cardinal for some other bird.”

If Virginia were to choose a new state bird, however, Beyer has one suggestion: “[T]urkeys are already well represented; America has seized the bald eagle; lots of mockingbirds represented. I would vote for the raven, the smartest bird on the planet, especially because Virginians must be the smartest people on the planet.”

He ended his response with an excerpt from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

“I support Virginia keeping the cardinal as our official bird and would encourage all of the other states that also picked the cardinal to choose something else,” said Virginia Delegate Danica Roem (D-13).

“I cannot say that I have spent very much time thinking about Virginia’s state bird. I wish I did, but I haven’t,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, “I’m a bit of a traditionalist, so I do like our current bird, but perhaps we should ensure it’s still the bird that Virginians support?”

Jimmy Rogers, Chief of Staff of Virginia State Senator David Marsden (D-37), discusses another potential option. “One thought is that the state flower in Virginia is the flowering dogwood, which is also the state tree. There are birds who make their nests in dogwoods, and one of these is the cedar waxwing, which has [a] year-round range in Virginia.” 

Several officials pointed out that the northern cardinal has historical connections with the Commonwealth.

“When the General Assembly adopted the beautiful red bird as the state bird in 1950, it was because of its bright plumage and cheerful song. The Cardinal has, however, been a symbol of Virginia for much longer,” said Virginia State Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30), “In fact, in eighteenth-century England, the cardinal was called ‘the Virginia nightingale.’ I do not have other suggestions for any replacements. The Cardinal does grace many signs and Virginia symbology, including some that welcome people to the Commonwealth.”

“I think there is a lot to be said for the idea that Virginia should have its own unique state bird,” said Virginia Delegate Mark H. Levine (D-45), “Although I will note that during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was known as the Virginia cardinal. So we do have a connection to this one.”

“I am proud that Virginia’s state bird is the northern cardinal and would not want to see it replaced,” said Virginia Delegate David L. Bulova (D-37),  “The cardinal was selected as the official state bird in 1950 (Code of Virginia Section 1-510).  However, it has had a much longer association with Virginia and was even called the ‘Virginia nightingale’ in the 18th century… Cardinals are cheerful and beautiful, but also bold and strong — which are great traits for a state bird. The cardinal is actually an integral part of the Seal of the Virginia Senate… I would also note that with the exception of North Carolina, all of the other states mentioned were formerly part of Virginia — Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio were part of the Virginia Northwest Territory, while Kentucky and West Virginia broke off from Virginia. As such, it seems that we should have the first claim on the cardinal as our state bird.”

Any proposed changes to the state bird would have to go through the House of Delegates General Laws Committee, which Bulova currently chairs. However, a Republican delegate will chair the committee starting Jan. 12,  2022, following November’s election, which saw Republicans gaining control of the Statehouse. 

“He [Mike Dukakis] is a national political figure,” said Andrew Orzel, an AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher, “The fact that he talked to Alexandria City High School is wonderful.”

Featured photo courtesy of George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

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Mike Dukakis Weighs in On Virginia State Bird