Campaign aims to make chicken Georgia's state bird

Campaign aims to make poultry Georgia's state bird
The Wierhouse team -- Alex Wier (from left), Daniel Stewart, Lauren Williamson, Stephanie Johnston and Leonard Zimmerman Jr. -- has taken on a project that aims to change Georgia's state bird from the brown thrasher to the Cornish chicken. The campaign is called Flip the Birds.



Chris Cunningham believes it only makes sense to flip the birds.

Cunningham, the president of Wife Saver Inc., is heading an effort to change the state bird. The brown thrasher, a migratory songbird, holds the honor. Cunningham wants to see the Cornish chicken claim that perch.

"It started as kind of a joke," he said. "I was just sitting on my porch having a couple of cocktails and watching some thrashers in my yard. We laughed about it. But the more we talked about it, the more it seemed to make sense."

Cunningham took the idea to Alex Wier and Daniel Stewart at Wierhouse, an Augusta design and advertising agency. Georgia, they discovered, runs on chicken.

"That's the great thing about this," Wier said. "When we researched this, it became really obvious. There is no argument for the brown thrasher."

According to the Flip the Birds Web site, the poultry industry contributes more than $15 billion annually to the state's economy. Georgia has been the largest chicken producer in the country for more than 25 years and ranks behind only the United States, China and Brazil in chicken production.

"Without the chicken, Georgia would be up a creek," Cunningham said.

Set up as a grass-roots effort, the Flip the Birds campaign is both silly and serious. Cunningham is keeping his chicken-centric business interests separate from the campaign while he and the Wierhouse team line up lobbyists and construct a case. They have printed up Flip the Birds can koozies, yard signs and stickers, and built a Web site that praises the chicken and smears ("It's migratory!") the thrasher.

"If you want to get people's attention, you have to use levity," Cunningham said. "Besides, it isn't like we are trying to change something James Oglethorpe started here. The brown thrasher wasn't officially named the state bird until 1970."

The Flip the Birds site is collecting online petition signatures and urging visitors to e-mail state representatives. Cunningham admits it's possible his chicken movement might fail but contends the exposure can only help the poultry industry.

Stewart said he loves the idea of not only deposing the thrasher but also of empowering people. He said the campaign is as much about allowing people to be heard as it is addressing an issue.

"People are tired," he said. "The government has made them tired. The financial world has made them tired. We just thought it was time to have something that people could have a real influence on."

Although the Flip the Birds movement has been gathering followers, nobody knows how that will translate in the long term. There could come a time, Wier said, when they discover their goose -- or chicken as the case may be -- is cooked.

"This whole thing was either brilliant or stupid," he said. "We just don't know. But we had to find out."

Georgia chickens

- Georgia is the largest poultry-producing state in the country.

- Georgia trails only the United States, China and Brazil in chicken production.

- The poultry industry contributes more than $15 billion to the state's economy annually.

- Georgia chicken production accounts for 16 percent of the United States' total.

- More than 47,000 Georgia residents are directly employed by the poultry industry. More than 77,000 are indirectly employed.