In 1935, thanks to the efforts of NJ State Senator Dryden Kuser and the secretary of the NJ chapter of the Audubon Society, Beecher Bowdish, the Eastern goldfinch became New Jersey’s official state bird.
This didn’t happen easily, because even 86 years ago, members of the New Jersey State Legislature had their differences. The first vote, on March 13, 1935, failed by four votes.
And look at what the Reno (Nevada) Evening Gazette wrote in the last paragraph of this story about New Jersey’s state bird on March 22, 1935:
NO OFFICIAL BIRD THERE
By four majority last week the senate of New Jersey decided that it did not want the goldfinch as the state’s official bird. The vote was serious but nothing else about the occasion was and State Senator Dryden Kuser, who had prepared an oration, could not be heard amid the shouting and whistling. Thus dies the effort to start a custom of having state birds as well as flowers, songs and nicknames...
The effort to have New Jersey honor the goldfinch was flying in the face of tradition, anyway, for everyone has always known that New Jersey’s bird is the mosquito.
Fortunately, after a third vote on June 24, 1935, the Eastern goldfinch became the official New Jersey State Bird.
Who Was State Senator John Dryden Kuser?
Sen. Kuser (who went by his middle name) served in the NJ Senate, representing Somerset County, from 1930-1936. He was a former president of the New Jersey Audubon Society and the author of two books on birds. You can learn more about him from his obituary in the New York Times. nytimes.com/1964/03/06/dryden-kuser-66-jersey-aide-dies.html
Who was Beecher Bowdish?
Beecher Bowdish dedicated most of his life to learning about birds. While he led the NJ Chapter of the Audubon Society, he also helped to start the American Birdbanding Association. Members of that association know how to safely capture and put special bands on birds to help keep track of the health and size of bird populations.
In 1911, Bowdish published a book with Chester Reed titled, Guide to the Birds of New Jersey. You can see a copy here: chester-reed.org/en/guide-to-the-birds-of-new-jersey-2.
What should you know about the Eastern goldfinch?
The first thing you need to know is that it’s no longer called the Eastern goldfinch! Since 1957, it has been called the American goldfinch.
Essentially, ornithologists (people who study birds) started to look at family relationships of finches and reclassified what finches belonged in what family. Now these scientists use DNA testing to refine those relationships. It’s like 23andMe or Ancestry.com for birds.
American goldfinches live year-round in New Jersey. They eat seeds, and especially enjoy sunflower and thistle seeds. If you put out a finch feeder, and fill it with nyjer seed, the goldfinches will love you. They also dine on purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), a plant native to New Jersey.
Like all birds, goldfinches drop their old feathers and grow new ones; it’s called molting. From October to March, the goldfinch body feathers look olive-brown while their wings are black and white. The colors help the birds hide in the grasses where they like to live.
In March, when it’s time to nest and reproduce, the male goldfinch molts and grows beautiful, bright yellow feathers on his body. He gets a black patch on his forehead. And his wings turn black. This is how the male attracts a female. The female will grow some yellow feathers and get a black head patch too, but she’s not as bright as the male.
Goldfinches are some of the last songbirds to have babies. Nesting can begin in late June, but usually happens during late July and into mid-August. The female can lay anywhere from two to seven eggs. She sits on the nest for 12 to 14 days before the babies hatch. Then the baby birds fly off 11 to 17 days later. Sometimes one female will lay eggs in July, send those babies off and then lay more eggs in August.
By the end of September, the parents start molting again, growing back those olive-brown feathers with the black and white wings.
What do we need to do?
Despite revisions, the law in New Jersey still reads “Eastern goldfinch.” Our job will be to get the State Legislature to correct the designate the American goldfinch as state bird, and to add the Latin binomial name Spinus tristus, so everyone knows exactly what bird the law references. By the way, every living thing on earth has a binomial identity (bi= two and nomial=name). Human beings are Homo sapiens. And you read another binomial name earlier. Can you find it again?
If you think this is important, here are the people who can help make the change and where you can send them a note via mail, or email, asking: Please correct the name of New Jersey’s state bird from Eastern goldfinch to American goldfinch and insert the binomial name Spinus tristus, and then sign your name.
Here are the people who represent Hamilton:
Sen. Linda Greenstein
1249 South River Road, Suite 105
Cranbury, NJ 08512
Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo
4621A Nottingham Way
Hamilton, NJ 08690
Assemblyman Dan Benson
3691A Nottingham Way
Hamilton Square, NJ 08690
If you see an American goldfinch, send a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, and we will publish it in the next issue.
Sue Ferrara is a freelance writer living in Hamilton. Her writing is her own.