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What is the Delaware State Bird? (And Why Not Another Bird?)

Gallus Gallus Blue Hen

Delaware is a very small northeastern state with 2,489 square miles of marshes, wildlife refuges, pine woodlands, and other habitats. The Diamond State is also home to more than one million people and over 400 bird species!

Delaware state bird, however, is the Delaware Blue Hen. Although not a wild bird, this species has played an important role in Delaware’s history and culture since colonial times.

 

State Bird of Delaware

The Delaware Blue Hen became the state bird of Delaware on April 14, 1939. This is the date when the state legislature made the bird an official symbol for the state.

Delaware state officials decided to choose a state bird for the same reasons other states were picking state symbols and birds in the late 1920s and 1930s. During those years, Federated Women’s Clubs were campaigning to have each state pick their official state symbols.

Northern Cardinals were considered, but ultimately, the Delaware Blue Hen won the race

In most places, they organized statewide surveys whereby schoolchildren picked the state bird. However, in Delaware, the state legislature already knew which bird they wanted to represent the state.

Although some people wanted the Northern Cardinal, the clear winner was the Delaware Blue Hen.

They picked this bird because it has been important for Delaware to identify since the Revolutionary War. During the war, some of the soldiers from Delaware became known as “Blue Hen’s Chickens” because this chicken breed was well known for its fighting prowess. Some of the soldiers may have brought these chickens with them, or their blue uniforms reminded people of the Delaware Blue Hen.

In any case, the type of chicken was and still is strongly associated with Delaware.

 

Fun Facts about Delaware Blue Hens

  • The Delaware Blue Hen is the symbol for the 166th Airlift Wing and the 142d Airlift Squadron.
  • The teams at the University of Delaware are known as the “Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens.” In 1911, this university adapted the bird to be its mascot in 1911. Its name is “YoUDee,” and it also has a younger sibling named “Baby Blue.”
  • Although the Blue Hen is not an officially recognized chicken breed, the dark-colored birds have been well-known in Delaware since the 18th century.
  • Delaware Blue Hens are believed to be descendants of the Malay chicken. This breed was brought to the United States by Dutch settlers in the 1600. Although Delaware Blue Hens were almost gone by the 1940s, dedicated enthusiasts worked hard to save this uniquely colored chicken from disappearing.
  • These birds don’t usually make good pets. Delaware Blue Hens were known for being aggressive birds, always looking for a fight. Although modern birds are a lot tamer, sometimes, those old behaviors come out and the birds can peck the hand that feeds them.
  • The original Delaware Blue Hens were big chickens used for their meat and known as “broiler birds.” In modern times, due to crossing with Cornish chickens, present-day Blue Hens are much smaller.
  • Delaware is not the only ones that have chosen a domesticated chicken as their state bird. Rhode Island and Rhode Island Red have gone down this path, too!

 

Identification

Technically, as with all chickens, the Delaware Blue Hen is a tame and domesticated variety of the Red Jungle Fowl. However, it differs in size and coloration from the red-orange and glossy green wild chickens.

Delaware Blue Hens are a fairly small type of chicken that is mostly blue-gray or dark steely blue and brown.  Some also have a white chest and belly. Males and females have pretty similar plumage, but male Delaware Blue Hens are 25 to 30 inches long, while females are smaller. On average, they are 16 to 18 inches long.

Delaware Blue Hen

Image credit: backyardchickens.com

Hens typically weigh between 4 and 6 pounds, while rooster Delaware Blue Hens can weigh 8 pounds. Another way to tell the sexes apart is by looking at their heads. Males have bigger red combs on their head, bigger wattles, and make the classic “cock-a-doodle-doo” call.

Like other chickens, the Delaware Blue Hen has short and rounded wings. Their wingspan can be anywhere from 17.7 to 23.6 inches, and the birds rarely fly. Most can barely flutter up to a perch, but in the wild, chickens can fly to escape predators. Similar to grouse and quail, they burst into the air with rapidly beating wings, and quickly fly to cover.

 

What do Delaware Blue Hens eat?

Delaware Blue Hens eat a wide variety of insects, invertebrates, and other small creatures. They also feed on small fruits, grain, and other bits of food. As with other domesticated chickens, birds held in captivity usually eat chicken feed and occasional fruits and vegetables.

However, free-range Blue Hens forage the same way as other chickens. Small groups walk on the ground in open or semi-wooded habitats and search for insects, small creatures, and other bits of food. When they notice a food item, they quickly run over to snatch it with their beak.

Some of their favorite food items are grasshoppers, crickets, and worms, but they won’t hesitate to catch and eat any number of other small creatures.

Just as with other chickens, Delaware Blue Hens also commonly forage by scratching the ground and leaves with their feet. This movement frightens insects and other small arthropods out of hiding. Scratching the ground can also reveal seeds and grain.

To eat small fruits, these birds can flutter up into a fruiting bush, where they pick berries with their beaks. However, they mostly feed on fruit by picking up pieces of fruit that have fallen to the ground.

 

Call

Delaware Blue Hens sound just like other chickens. While foraging and socializing, both sexes make lots of clucking sounds. However, males make variations of the loud and well-known “cock-a-doodle-doo!” call.

Related: What is a group of chickens called?

Much to the chagrin of people who live with or near them, rooster Blue Hens usually make that loud and penetrating vocalization at dusk, dawn, or in the middle of the night!

 

Behavior

This species is a social bird that lives in small flocks. While some farms can have hundreds of chickens, in the wild, they occur in much smaller groups made up of females and one or more males.

They spend most of their time scratching in leaf litter and on the ground as one or more birds keep an eye out for predators. If a hawk or other threat is spotted, they give the alarm and run or fly for cover.

However, if they spot a small snake, the chickens might end up attacking it!

Females usually lay their eggs in a nest in a chicken coop. However, wild birds make a shallow scrape in the ground, often in bamboo forests or second growth. They lay five to six eggs and lead their young to feeding areas shortly after hatching.

As with other chickens, male Delaware Blue Hens can be prone to fighting each other. In the past, these birds were well-known for being aggressive and powerful fighters. However, in present times, they are a lot more docile.

Even so, they can fight with each other over territory and mates. Males typically kick and try to slash each other with their leg spurs while pecking at their opponent.

Keep reading: Most common birds of Delaware

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the state bird of Delaware?

The state bird of Delaware is the Delaware Blue Hen.

Why is the Delaware Blue Hen the state bird of Delaware?

The Delaware Blue Hen is the state bird of Delaware because this type of chicken has been associated with Delaware since the Revolutionary War.

When did Delaware choose its state bird?

Delaware chose its state bird on April 14, 1939.

What is Delaware’s state animal?

Delaware’s state animal is the Gray Fox.

What is the state flower of Delaware?

The state flower of Delaware is the Peach Blossom.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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