"Crane” can mean a bird or it can mean a machine used in construction. Hawaii grew rapidly in the 1960s and early 1970s that a popular joke was that the state bird was the construction crane. (The state bird is the Nēnē or Hawaiian goose.) The joke has been cited in print since at least 1971.
The “state bird” joke was told in Florida by at least 1983 and became popularly associated with that state as well. The joke was told about Houston (Texas) in 1983 and about Austin (Texas) in 2015.
Actually, the crane is not the official state bird of any state.
Wikipedia: List of U.S. state birds
This is a list of U.S. state birds as designated by each state’s legislature. The selection of state birds began in 1927, when the legislatures for Alabama, Florida, Maine, Missouri, Oregon, Texas and Wyoming selected their state birds. The last state to choose its bird was Arizona in 1973.
Florida Northern mockingbird
Hawaii Nēnē or Hawaiian goose
Texas Northern mockingbird
26 November 1971, Life, “Goodbye to You, Blue Hawaii” by Ralph Crane, pg. 58:
So many construction cranes hover over the Honolulu-Waikiki skyline that local residents refer to them as “the state bird.” The official state bird, the nene, survives uneasily on the edge of extinction.
The Sugar-Coated Fortress
By Francine du Plessix Gray
New York, NY: Random House
Honolulu’s monstrous new Ala Moana Hotel is a joint venture of American Airlines and the Dillingham Corporation, whose sky-blue construction cranes are referred to as “the state bird of Hawaii.”
1 December 1978, San Diego (CA) Union, “Mild Recession Seen For ‘79” by Donald C, Bauder, pg. 51, col. 7:
Noted Ford wryly, “The state bird has become the high-rise crane. Everywhere you look in the big California cities, big buildings are rising.”
(William F. Ford, senior vice presiden of Wells Fargo Bank.—ed.)
21 January 1979, New York (NY) Times, “Doubts Grow Along WIth Hawaii’s Rapid Growth” (AP), pg. 48, col. 4:
The building crane is known as Hawaii’s unofficial state bird.
18 October 1981, Boston (MA) Globe, “By Horace Sutton,” pg. 1:
HONOLULU - The masters of the one-liners are not all writing for TV comedians and Las Vegas lounge acts. A lot of them are conducting tourists around Honolulu. The state bird, they like to tell you, is the crane. You can see it atop all the high-rises that continue to sprout here in pineapple paradise.
They are talking about steel cranes (joke), which are used in construction. In real life the state bird is the Nene, a sort of goose that no tourist ever sees outside the zoo.
Hawaii, the Legend That Sells
By Bryan H. Farrell
Honolulu, HI: University Press of Hawaii
There is, after all, the old joke about the Dillingham crane being the state bird.
Google News Archive
24 April 1983, The Blade (Toledo, OH), “A Sunrise Can Be Pretty Special” by Rick Sylvain (Knight News Service), pg. F9, col. 2:
To those who figure Florida’s state bird is the construction crane and all that Florida grows are coastal condominiums, Amelia Island will be a surprise.
(Amelia Island, FL.—ed.)
3 July 1983, Boston (MA) Globe, “Houston: Trouble in Paradise” by Nick King, pg. 1:
“Things are so bad that we hardly see the state bird - the construction crane - anymore,” says Skelton.
Google News Archive
2 September 1989, Ocala (FL) Star-Banner, “Florida trying to stabilize growth” by Tim O’Relley (The New York Times), pg. 4C, col. 3:
NAPLES — A longstanding joke in Florida has it that the state bird is the construction crane.
Google News Archive
19 October 2002, Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune, “North Port’s Heron Creek joins roster of four-star courses” by David Grimes, pg. 1E, col. 3:
It’s Florida, the place where the state bird is the construction crane.
Nancy D. Brown
LVCVB Art Jimenez says the state bird is the crane. Lots of building going on here. #LTE
11:31 AM - 3 Dec 2008
Why is state bird of Texas the construction crane? Houston & Dallas #1 & #2 - http://bit.ly/pPbwpA #new #homes
12:55 PM - 26 Sep 2011
They say the state bird of Texas should be the construction crane—that’s how much it’s being built out. http://observer.com/2015/08/texas-forever-how-i-found-the-american-dream-in-the-lone-star-state/#.VjDu5koWJAk.twitter … #twill
10:51 AM - 28 Oct 2015
Crane.....the state bird of Texas! #ayreshomes #dfwrelocation
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6:19 PM - 2 Feb 2016
Florida (Sunshine State Dictionary) • Wednesday, February 03, 2016 • Permalink