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Why is there a white pelican on Louisiana's official state flag if the state bird is a brown pelican? 

Blake Pontchartrain: The New Orleans N.O. It All

click to enlarge The Louisiana brown pelican — like this specimen, photographed off Grand Isle — did not become the official state bird until 1966. The original pelican state flag, adopted earlier in the 20th century, featured a white pelican.

PHOTO BY JOHN TURNER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The Louisiana brown pelican — like this specimen, photographed off Grand Isle — did not become the official state bird until 1966. The original pelican state flag, adopted earlier in the 20th century, featured a white pelican.

Hey Blake,

Why is there a white pelican on Louisiana's official state flag if the state bird is a brown pelican?

Morris

Hey Morris,

There are a couple of easy answers to your question. The first answer is that when the governor and state Legislature get involved in designating an "official" anything, you sometimes get mixed results. The simpler answer is that while the familiar state flag — featuring a white pelican on a blue background with three pelican chicks in a nest — was introduced in 1912, it wasn't until 1966 that the brown pelican was named the official state bird.

  Still, the bird's status as a symbol of Louisiana government dates back to its earliest days as an American territory. According to researcher Glen Duncan, the state's first governor, William C.C. Claiborne, favored as a state symbol a pelican tearing at her breast to produce droplets of blood to feed her young. This was a common image in Roman Catholicism, a reference to self-sacrifice and Christ's shedding of blood for his flock.

  In 1902, Gov. William Wright Heard made the bird an official symbol on the state seal. Then, in 1912, 100 years after Louisiana became a state, the legislature adopted an official state flag featuring a similar image.

  In 2006, based on research for a school project by Houma student Joseph Louviere, lawmakers wrote into law that a new state flag should include three drops of blood. The Times-Picayune reported that when testifying before a House committee, Louviere explained the drops of blood are a sign of the state's willingness to sacrifice itself for its residents. The new flag, though it still features a pelican more white than brown, was introduced in 2010.

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