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  • Writer's pictureNoah Bookstein

Don’t Let It Ruffle Your Feathers

Florida lawmakers debate contenders to replace the state bird.

The Florida Scrub-Jay with its striking blue head and the American Flamingo with its regal pink plumage: both have come forward to challenge the Northern Mockingbird's century-old reign.

During the 2024 legislative session, two new proposals reignited a years-long debate about changing Florida's avian symbol from the mockingbird to a different bird. The notable Scrub-Jay has in years past caught the attention of environmentalists and journalists across the state. 

A Florida Scrub-Jay holds a seed in its mouth. Courtesy of Steve A. Johnson, University of Florida, IFAS.

Sen. Tina Polsky (D - Boca Raton) sponsored SB 162, a bill aimed at changing the state bird to the Florida Scrub-Jay. The bill died March 8 in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Concurrently, Senator Alexis Calatayud (R - Miami-Dade) sponsored SB 918 which proposes to change the state bird to the American Flamingo. The bill also died on March 8 in the Fiscal Policy Committee.

“I am proposing the Scrub-Jay because it's the only bird that is endemic to the state of Florida,” Sen. Polsky said. 

The Northern Mockingbird is shared as the state symbol with four other states including Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. 

The News Watch reached out to Sen. Calatayud, but did not receive a response.

While the Northern Mockingbird is found across most of the continental United States, Canada, and Mexico, the Florida Scrub-Jay is native to and only found within Florida. On their Red List platform, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) locates the Florida Scrub-Jay mostly along the coasts with a higher concentration around central Florida. The IUCN has classified The Florida Scrub-Jay as “vulnerable” with a decreasing population. 

“It is potentially going to be extinct,” Sen. Polsky said.

In Florida, the designation of state bird does not ascribe any special protections to the animal. Sen. Polsky believes the state bird designation can help raise awareness about the Florida Scrub-Jay and conservation. 

The Northern Mockingbird and the American Flamingo are both listed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List.

Marion P. Hammer, former president of the National Rifle Association, opposes changing the Florida state bird from the Northern Mockingbird.

Hammer and Sen. Polsky published contrasting editorials in the Palm Beach Post in October of 2021 where Hammer accused the Florida Scrub-Jay of engaging in “street gang behavior,” pointing to how Scrub-Jays can steal from the nests of other birds. This behavior, called opportunistic predation, is not unique to the Scrub-Jay. Other birds, including some mockingbirds, have been observed engaging in this behavior. Hammer has no reported environmental science or biology background. 

In the 2021 editorial Sen. Polsky wrote with student Anya Cane, they emphasize that the Scrub-Jay is “cooperative” and “family-oriented.” 

Despite challenges to its designation, at the moment the Northern Mockingbird will continue to be Florida’s official bird. Sen. Polsky says she will continue to fight for the Florida Scrub-Jay to represent the state. 

“I think they just don't want to bother. They don't like change,” Sen. Polsky said. She says the Florida Scrub-Jay “is a beautiful bird in Central Florida. And to me, it's the only one that makes sense. Because it's the true Floridian bird.”


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