The new plate features the design of the 1901 Maine flag. Photo courtesy of Office of Secretary of State

Maine’s longtime chickadee license plate may be endangered.

State officials on Tuesday released a proposal for a new vehicle registration plate incorporating the pine tree image from the state’s historic 1901 flag. The proposed plate would succeed the chickadee design and would feature a buff background, a navy blue star and a dark green pine tree.

The new plate would still display the state’s nickname, Vacationland, across the bottom.

“License plates serve not only to identify vehicles, but are a way of expressing our love for our state,” Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said in a statement. “We’re excited to present this new design proposal for the coming license plate reissuance.”

Maine’s chickadee license plate. Photo courtesy of

Maine’s chickadee plate has been in circulation since 1999.

After 24 years, many of the plates have deteriorated beyond identification, creating safety concerns, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles said.


Poor-quality plates can hinder the effectiveness of law enforcement officers, who rely on identifying plates to solve and prevent crime, the bureau said in a news release. Automated toll collection also could be reduced, and as plates lose their reflectivity over time, a vehicle’s visibility at night and in bad weather is reduced.

The new plates would be issued to Mainers registering their cars between March 2025 and the end of February 2026, said Cathie Curtis, a deputy secretary of state.

“Mainers across the state have embraced the 1901 flag and we think they’ll love the new plate design as much as we do,” Curtis said.

The flag was used as Maine’s official flag from 1901 to 1909 before lawmakers went with a more traditional state seal design, similar to the approach used in many other states.


Over the past few years, multiple tries to replace the current state flag with its predecessor have failed in the Legislature. Another bill, the second push sponsored by Rep. Sean Paulhus, D-Bath, is expected in the current legislative session.


While it has so far failed to win over the lawmakers, the so-called “1901 flag” has boomed in popularity. In addition to flying outside many homes and businesses, the 1901 version has been emblazoned on T-shirts and patches, sewn into hats and, during the current pandemic, adorned the face masks of state political leaders.

“I always say we lost the battle but won the war,” said Janice Cooper, a former state representative from Yarmouth who pushed to have the state flag replaced in 2019.

“You see it everywhere. … It’s because it’s the perfect design,” she said.

The star symbolizes the North Star, a reference to “Dirigo,” the state’s motto, “I lead.” The pine tree is a reference to the state’s nickname and natural environment.

Cooper was initially delighted by the idea of the flag on Maine’s license plate, but disappointed to hear it would replace the chickadee. The chickadee, the lobster and the flag are all important to the state for different reasons, she said.

“I don’t think we should have to choose to drop one of them.”


Paulhus, the representative from Bath, is supportive of retiring the chickadee in favor of the flag.

“It’ll look great on a license plate and looks great as a flag again,” he said. The chickadee was a good design, but it’s time for an update, and he believes the 1901 flag is a good choice.

“It’s simple, it invokes Maine and it’s easy to recognize.”

But Nick Lund thinks it may be a little too simple. Lund writes online as “The Birdist” and works at Maine Audubon. He likes the way the chickadee plate merges the state bird and state flower, showcasing the state’s natural beauty.

“(The chickadee) is a beautiful-looking plate, more so than the flag,” he said. “The flag looks a little basic.”

Lund is actually supportive of making the 1901 flag the new (old) Maine flag, but he thinks officials should “focus on knocking that out first before getting rid of the chickadee.”

In 2018, Lund “stirred up controversy” surrounding the state bird. Specifically, he pointed out the ambiguity in the statute that declares the chickadee as the state bird but does not specify which chickadee: the black-capped chickadee or the boreal chickadee.


It’s the more common, black-capped chickadee that graces the current license plate. That chickadee is also the state bird of Massachusetts.

“If we lose ours, Massachusetts may swoop in and scoop it up,” he said the plate design.

While he’ll be sad to see the chickadee go, he noted that the state’s two dozen or so plate options include one showing a loon. Registering a vehicle with that plate design provides funding to support conservation efforts in Maine.

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee will consider the plate-change proposal over the next several weeks, after which it will go to the full chamber for consideration.

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