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What Is the State Bird of Alabama?

The state bird of Alabama is the Yellowhammer, a striking species known for its vibrant plumage and melodic song. Adopted in 1927, this bird holds a special place in the heart of Alabamians, symbolizing natural beauty and resilience. Discover how the Yellowhammer's legacy is woven into Alabama's history—what fascinating tales might it tell us about the state's past?
Lumara Lee
Lumara Lee

The state bird of Alabama is the yellowhammer woodpecker. Alabama is sometimes called the yellowhammer state. The botanical name for this state bird is colaptes auratus, and it also commonly called flicker, northern flicker, southern flicker, common flicker, and yellow-shafted flicker. Each state in the United States has a state bird, but Alabama is the only state that has chosen a woodpecker for its symbol.

During the Civil War, some new recruits from Huntsville, Alabama reported to General Bedford Forrest in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. These fresh members of the cavalry wore new uniforms, unlike the other soldiers under General Forrest’s command, whose clothes showed the ravages of war. The new uniforms had embellishments of brilliant yellow fabric on the coat tails, sleeves, and collars. Upon seeing the fresh recruits with their grey and yellow uniforms, a veteran of past battles named Will Arnett called out, "Yellowhammer, yellowhammer, flicker, flicker!"

The yellowhammer woodpecker often feeds on crickets.
The yellowhammer woodpecker often feeds on crickets.

The new recruits were known afterwards as the Yellowhammer Company. This term spread until all troops from Alabama who fought for the Confederacy came to be known as Yellowhammers. The name became legendary, and in 1927, the yellowhammer became the state bird of Alabama.

Yellowhammer woodpeckers are mostly a brownish gray color, with yellow feathers under their wings and tails and black bars on their bodies. They have sharp talons that enable them to cling to the sides of trees. Their natural predators are hawks, owls, and snakes.

Owls are a natural predator of the yellowhammer woodpecker, Alabama's state bird.
Owls are a natural predator of the yellowhammer woodpecker, Alabama's state bird.

On the ground they can become the prey of raccoons and other mammals. The yellowhammer is one of the most common woodpeckers seen in Alabama. Most flickers migrate south during the winter, but in warmer climes the state bird of Alabama stays year round.

Although it has a hard bill capable of drilling into wood to feed on insects, the state bird of Alabama spends most of its time on the ground. It prefers foraging in the earth and in rotten trees over hammering into hard wood like other woodpeckers, and is often seen poking its beak into lawns to feed. When on the ground, it moves by hopping from place to place as it forages. The yellowhammer is omnivorous and eats insects, including ants, termites, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and crickets. It also eats vegetation, such as seeds, nuts, berries, and other fruit. The state bird of Alabama especially likes the berries that grow on poison ivy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the state bird of Alabama?

The state bird of Alabama is the Yellowhammer, also known as the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). It was officially designated as the state bird in 1927. The Yellowhammer is a member of the woodpecker family and is recognized by its distinctive yellow underwing and joyful call. This bird holds historical significance for Alabama, as Confederate soldiers from the state were nicknamed "Yellowhammers" during the Civil War due to their yellow-trimmed uniforms.

Why was the Yellowhammer chosen as Alabama's state bird?

The Yellowhammer was chosen as Alabama's state bird due to its association with Alabama's history and the nickname given to Alabama soldiers during the Civil War. The soldiers were referred to as "Yellowhammers" because of the yellow cloth that adorned their uniforms, similar to the yellow coloring of the bird. This historical connection made the Yellowhammer a symbol of Alabama's heritage and pride, leading to its official adoption as the state bird.

Where can you commonly find the Yellowhammer in Alabama?

The Yellowhammer, or Northern Flicker, can be commonly found throughout Alabama in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, forest edges, and open fields. They are also known to visit backyards and can be spotted in both rural and suburban areas. These birds are adaptable and can be seen year-round in Alabama, foraging on the ground for insects or perched on tree trunks.

What are some distinguishing features of the Yellowhammer?

The Yellowhammer is notable for its striking appearance, which includes a brownish-gray color with black bars on its back and wings, and a black crescent on its chest. The male has a black or red mustache stripe. One of its most distinctive features is the bright yellow undersides of its wings and tail, which are especially visible during flight. The bird's loud, rolling call is also a distinguishing characteristic.

How does the Yellowhammer contribute to Alabama's ecosystem?

The Yellowhammer plays a vital role in Alabama's ecosystem by controlling insect populations, as it primarily feeds on ants and beetles. By foraging on the ground and in trees, the Yellowhammer helps maintain a balanced ecosystem. Additionally, as cavity nesters, these birds often create or use holes in trees that can later serve as homes for other species, thus contributing to the biodiversity of their habitats.

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Discussion Comments

Rotergirl
And then, of course, there's the infamous audience participation cheer at Alabama Crimson Tide football games: "Rammer jammer, yellowhammer..."

I guess the first three words rhyme nicely, so that's what they used.

Pippinwhite

It's funny -- I've lived in Alabama my whole life and I have never seen a yellowhammer. I've seen red-headed woodpeckers many times, but never a yellowhammer. I think they're more common in south Alabama, and I live in north Alabama.

I've only seen pictures of yellowhammers, never the real thing.

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    • The yellowhammer woodpecker often feeds on crickets.
      By: viter
      The yellowhammer woodpecker often feeds on crickets.
    • Owls are a natural predator of the yellowhammer woodpecker, Alabama's state bird.
      Owls are a natural predator of the yellowhammer woodpecker, Alabama's state bird.