NB Naturalist Feature: Nature NB and the Chickadee

25 MARCH 2022 — In 1983, the New Brunswick legislature officially adopted the Black-capped Chickadee as the provincial bird. What was the catalyst for this decision? A contest conducted by the New Brunswick Federation of Naturalists (NBFN).

The NBFN asked New Brunswickers to participate in the decision process by sending in their votes. Ballots were printed in local newspapers that could be filled out and mailed in. According to Mary Majka, quite a few schools participated. In her Message from the President in a 1981 issue of the NB Naturalist, Mary shared that over 2,000 people sent in their votes for the provincial bird. Articles were written in local newspapers urging people to vote, and Sara Lounsbury of the Miramichi Naturalist Club even did a spot on CBC to encourage participation.

In an initial public survey, the four most popular choices were the America Robin, the Canada Jay, the Black-capped Chickadee, and the White-throated Sparrow. A ballot was created with these four birds to choose from, and a second public survey began through newspapers, letter writing, and ballots sent out by local nature clubs.

Figure 1. Two versions of provincial bird ballots printed in local newspapers

These four choices weren’t always satisfactory to some voters. As Mary put it: “A few people had other birds in mind than the four we proposed and gave us their opinions.”

Figure 2. Ballot with options crossed out and write-in vote for the Barn swallow

In a conversation with Peter Pearce in December 2021, he believed that the chickadee won the contest when Mary got school children involved. Mary thought the contest would present an opportunity for kids to learn about the local avifauna and grow their appreciation for the nature in their backyards.

However, it was not just the children who loved the chickadee; some entries were accompanied by letters describing why this cheerful little bird was the perfect candidate. Here are just a few examples:

Figure 3. Letter from Mrs. A. J. Schwartz of Fredericton, casting her vote for the Chickadee

Figure 4. Letter and Ballot from Fred Coffran of St Stephen, casting his vote for the Chickadee

Figure 5. Letter and photo from Howard A. Dyer of Moncton, casting his vote for the Chickadee

We have included the results of the voting, broken down by county, below.

Figure 6. Results of the voting broken down by county as printed in NB Naturalist 11(2-4)

After sifting through the many letters casting their votes for the provincial bird in 1980, it is clear that the chickadee was an excellent choice. Not only is it a ubiquitous bird that graces us with is presence year-round and is recognizable to every New Brunswicker, it was selected by home-grown naturalists whose love of nature likely started in their own backyards.

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