Delaware State Bird
Adoption of the Delaware State Bird
Before the Blue Hen Chicken was adopted as the state bird, the State Federation of Women's Clubs of Delaware recommended the scarlet cardinal. The cardinal is a beautiful bird that is a year-round resident of Delaware. Club members touted the cardinal's good traits,
The cardinal would have been a wonderful choice (Seven states have chosen it.), but the Blue Hen Chicken won the day.
On April 14, 1939, the Delaware General Assembly made the "Blue Hen Chicken" the official state bird of Delaware.
About the Delaware State Bird
In fact, the "Blue Hen Chicken" is not a recognized breed and its selection as the state bird relates to historical events more than to a natural association of the bird with the state of Delaware.
Though not a recognized breed, work has been done to develop a strain of blue chickens that might propagate reliably. The University of Delaware's College of Agricultural and Natural Resources maintains a breeding group of Blue Hen chickens on the campus farm. Typically, however, only about half of the chicks produced by blue parents will have blue feathers. The remaining chicks will be solid black or white and black.
Historical information is not always as accurate as we might wish but, regardless, the historical background related to the rise of the "Blue Hen Chicken" to the stature of official Delaware state bird and to the nickname given to the University of Delaware athletic teams is quite interesting.
It's recounted that the popularity of the "Blue Hen Chicken" goes back over 200 years. It's almost universally agreed that the origination of the "Blue Hen Chicken," as Delaware state bird, was during the Revolutionary War and that the battling ferocity and fearlessness of Delaware soldiers in battle was associated with the Kent County Blue Hen Chickens owned and bred by Captain Jonathan Caldwell. The courage and intensity demonstrated by the Delaware soldiers caused them to be referred to alternately as fighting "gamecocks" and as the "Blue Hen's Chickens."
On December 9, 1775, the Continental Congress resolved that a military battalion was to be raised from the lower three counties along the Delaware River. The Delaware regiment was born: a group composed of eight companies representing New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties, under the leadership of Colonel John Haslet. Jonathan Caldwell organized the first or second company of militia with men from Kent County and became its captain.
Jonathan Caldwell was said to be a jovial gentleman and a devotee to the so-called sport of cock-fighting. He was well known all over the Delaware and Maryland peninsulas as a respected owner and breeder of gamecocks. It's been reported that Mr. Caldwell produced a strain of fighting gamecocks noted for their blue plumage and fighting ability that were descended from a famous Blue Hen. The renown of these chickens spread rapidly throughout Kent County during the time when cock-fighting was a popular form of amusement, and the "Blue Hen's Chickens" developed quite a reputation for ferocity and fighting success. Caldwell argued that no gamecock could hold a candle to those descended from the Blue Hen.
Cock-fighting, now illegal in the United States, is a bloody and ruthless activity were two roosters are pitted against each other for sport. The roosters slash at each other with their claws until a victor is determined. Often a rooster's natural claw was fitted with sharp metal claw, or spur, to inflict damage on the opponent.
There are several similar stories about how the Blue Hen's Chickens first became identified with the Captain John Caldwell's Revolutionary Company. They all probably play some role in the history of the company and, later, the regiment of Colonel Haslet.
One story has it that the Captain John Caldwell's company was first hailed as the "Blue Hen's Chickens" before they marched off to war. It's told that, when his company first paraded on the Dover green, a wagon loaded with chicken coops of the Blue Hen's brood was part of the entourage. It seems natural that these men, so involved in the sport of cock-fighting would bring their sporting chickens with them as the left home to fight the British.
Other stories suggest that the nickname was not earned until Captain Caldwell's men found themselves in battle. It's said that heroics during the battle of Long Island firmly established the connection between the Delaware soldiers and their fighting gamecocks. Again, at White Plains, New York, the Delaware regiment distinguished itself, earning the reputation of fierce and courageous warriors like the "Blue Hen's Chickens" they had brought with them. When not fighting the enemy, the officers and men amused themselves by pitting their Blue Hen Chickens in cock-fights. The fame of these cock-fights spread throughout the army and when in battle, the Delaware men fought so valiantly that they were compared to these fighting cocks.
The Delaware Code
The following information is excerpted from the Delaware Code, Title 29, Chapter 3, Section 304.
TITLE 29 - State Government.
The "blue hen chicken" is the official bird of the State.
(42 Del. Laws, c. 128; 29 Del. C. 1953, § 504.)
State Bird List: List of all of the state birds.
Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village: The Delaware Blue Hen.
Ellen Carol Ward: Newspaper article regarding the exploits of the fighting Blue Hen's Chickens.
Ellen Carol Ward: Concerning the Caldwells who distinguished themselves in battle and a song.
University of Delaware: The history of the fightin' Blue Hens.
University of Delaware: A little about YoUDee, the official mascot of the University of Delaware Fighting Blue Hens.
Bird Feeders and Accessories: Backyard Birding > Bird Feeders & Accessories from Amazon.com.
State Birds & Flowers 1000-pc Puzzle: Created at the request of The National Wildlife Federation this design is a beautiful and informative puzzle featuring every state bird perched on the appropriate state flower.
State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols: A Historical Guide, Third Edition - Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer, Greenwood Press, 2002
Source: University of Delaware, (http://www.udel.edu/main/about/bluehen.html), April 2, 2004
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