Florida Wants to Replace Its State Bird and Everyone Has an Opinion On What It Should Be

The mockingbird might lose it status as the state bird of Florida after nearly a century.

Efforts are underway to replace the mockingbird with a bird that fits the state better. Four other states call the mockingbird its state bird.

The legislation is headed by Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes, who told the Associated Press that having a unique type of bird as Florida's state bird is "a fun conversation to have."

Four birds gaining popularity in the conversation are the Florida scrub jay, the flamingo, the osprey and the roseate spoonbill. Other suggestions have ranged from the wood stork to less serious ones like the construction crane.

According to Democrat state Senator Tina Polsky, the scrub jay is "friendly, cooperative, family-oriented, bold, curious, talented builder, protective, shares chores, stays close to home," asking fellow Floridians "does this sound like someone you would want to represent your community?"

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted in October to support the osprey as the new state bird known for hunting Florida's fish. The flamingo is also a popular choice for representing Floridian culture, symbolizing the state's lottery, among other appearances. Finally, the roseate spoonbill can often be seen on the famous Florida shorelines and islands.

The official vote on whether or not to keep the mockingbird as Florida's state bird is expected during the 2022 Florida legislative session, which starts on January 11.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Flamingo
After nearly a century on its lofty perch, the northern mockingbird's days may be numbered as the state bird of Florida. The flamingo is one of several birds being considered as the new state bird. Above, a pink flamingo walks along Haulover Beach on May 17, 2018, in Miami Beach, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The gray-and-white mockingbird, celebrated in literature and music, has been Florida's state bird since 1927, when the state was much more agricultural and less populated on the coasts. It may not be quite as representative of today's bustling, modern Florida—and four other states also call it the state bird.

But it has supporters, including Marion Hammer, the lobbyist in Florida for the National Rifle Association and executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida. She wrote in a recent opinion piece that the mockingbird deserves our continued love.

The mockingbird can sing up to 200 different tunes and mimic artificial sounds like car alarms. Its Latin name translates to "many-tongued thrush."

"The mockingbird is a well established, independent, prolific bird that doesn't need government protection or our tax dollars to survive," Hammer wrote. "It can be seen, watched, studied and enjoyed by children and adults on any given day in all areas of Florida."

The same cannot be said of the Florida scrub jay, described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as the sole bird species found only in Florida. Trouble is, there are only about 4,000 of them concentrated in central Florida and the federal government lists them as threatened.

Brandes did not suggest a mockingbird replacement in his legislation. But separate bills in the state House and Senate would elevate the blue-headed scrub jay to the honorary post.

Polsky argued in a recent editorial that the scrub jay "represents the hard-working, family-oriented nature of our residents."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also voted for the osprey to become the state bird in 2009, after a poll of 77,000 school students resulted in a victory for the large raptor commonly seen building big nests or roosting on light poles near bodies of water.

"That doesn't necessarily mean that that's the way it's going to go, if you know the Legislature," said commission chair Rodney Barreto. "But at least we can put a marker down."

Flamingos' reputation as a foreign interloper changed in recent years when researchers proved flamingos are native to the Sunshine State but were mercilessly hunted to near extinction in the early 20th century. They have since rebounded, bolstered by captive flocks like the one at the Hialeah horse track, but exist mainly in the Everglades, the Florida Keys and around Biscayne Bay in Miami.

Roseate spoonbills have unique rounded bills used for scooping food in shallow waters and usually live near shorelines or on islands.

To Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida, any debate about Florida birds is a good thing—especially if it raises consciousness about what's needed to protect them such as habitat conservation, water quality improvements and Everglades restoration.

"Being the state bird doesn't confer any protection on the bird. We just get excited when people are talking about it and acknowledge how integral birds are to our quality of life in Florida," Wraithmell said. "We're hoping that through these conversations, people will want to get more involved."

There is precedent for states switching their honorary state animals, including birds: In 1948, South Carolina shifted from the mockingbird to the Carolina thrush. Brandes said it's time for Florida to also find a new feathered friend.

"Why does the northern mockingbird make sense in the southernmost state?" he said. "I think it's a bird that doesn't make sense for Florida."

Osprey
After nearly a century on its lofty perch, the northern mockingbird's days may be numbered as the state bird of Florida. The osprey is one of several birds being considered as the new state bird. Above, an osprey keeps an eye on a chick in its nest on a directional pole at the Kennedy Space Center on April 21, 2012. AP Photo/John Raoux, File