December 9: For some time now, the special “Map of State Birds” page on this site has featured all but one of the fifty state birds. The forty-eighth, added in Nome in June, 2012 was Alaska’s Willow Ptarmigan, and the forty-ninth – Pennsylvania’s Ruffed Grouse, was added in Bloomingdale, NY this year, but the one that until now has remained conspicuously absent is the state bird of our very first state – Delaware. For whatever reason, Delaware selected for its avian talisman a bird that is not found in the wild at all, nor for that matter is it easily found anywhere anymore. It is the mascot of the University of Delaware – the Delaware Blue Hen chicken, but very few people have ever seen a real one.
During the Revolutionary War soldiers of the patriotic army had little to do when encamped between marches or battles, and took to cock fighting for entertainment to relieve the boredom. The breed of chicken known as the Delaware Blue became popular for this “sport” and developed a reputation, not necessarily deserved, for being a tough fighter. Once the war ended, the Delaware Blue was no longer particularly sought after and eventually virtually disappeared as a pure breed. Only a few specimens can now be found and, although close, even they are not 100% original Delaware Blue.
I finally decided to make a concerted effort to at last complete the pictorial set of all fifty state birds. This required a bit of research to find the purest Delaware Blue out there, and eventually I was referred to Mike Wasylkowski, a Delaware poultry judge and long-time breeder of chickens including a few Delaware Blues. So on December 1, during this year’s “snow birding” trip back to Florida from Connecticut, Nancy and I took advantage of Mike’s generous invitation and made a detour through the little town of Smyrna, Delaware, just north of the state capital of Dover.
As with most birds, it is the male that is the showy specimen, but how can a Delaware Blue Hen be represented by a photo of a rooster? After all, it’s not called a Delaware Blue Rooster. So we have here both the female and the male, with the admittedly less showy female, by virtue of its name, getting the photo representation on the state birds map.