Pelicans! Louisiana’s state flag is like no other in the Union, and uses an emblem that is virtually unchanged from the eleventh century. Louisiana joined the Union in 1812, and took another one hundred years to adopt its flag though it was used throughout the state long before that.
The flag’s ancient heraldic charge, a “pelican in her piety,” represents a mother pelican wounding her breast to feed her young from the blood. Emblematic of Christian charity, this symbol of the mother pelican in the nest with three young birds is set into the traditional azure blue field. Beneath the birds and nest is a ribbon with the state motto: “Union, Justice, and Confidence.”
The most traditional renditions of this symbol show drops of blood on the mother bird’s breast, and while nineteenth century variations of the state flag did show the blood drops, the flag adopted in 1912 did not.
Last year, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, thanks to the efforts of a Houma teenager, signed legislation that called for adding three drops of blood to the mother pelican’s breast.
While the birds are rendered in white on the flag, they are meant to represent the Eastern Brown Pelican, Louisiana’s greatly beloved state bird, and this same symbol is used on the Louisiana state seal. Placed on the Endangered Species list in 1970, the brown pelican has staged a remarkable comeback, but is still considered endangered in Louisiana and Texas.