Mockingbird faces new challengers as Florida state symbol

Florida has a range of state symbols, including a stone, Agatized Coral; a beverage, orange juice; an animal, the Florida panther; a marine mammal, the manatee; and a reptile, the American alligator – all of which seem to accurately represent the state in their respective categories. However, since 2008, Florida lawmakers have been crowing support for changing the Sunshine State’s official bird

The mockingbird -- which is also the state bird of Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas -- was designated as Florida’s state bird back in 1927. On the Department of State website, the mockingbird, or Mimus polyglottos, is described as a "year-round Florida resident" that is "helpful to humans because it usually feeds on insects and weed seeds" and is "known for its fierce defense of the family nest." The bird is also described as a "superb songbird" and mimic. 

"Its own song has a pleasant lilting sound and is, at times, both varied and repetitive," the website said. "Often, the mockingbird sings all night long, especially under bright springtime moonlight." 

While lawmakers do not seem to have a problem with the mockingbird, those in support of a change say the state’s bird should be more reflective of the state’s diverse winged population. 

The mockingbird is Florida's current official state bird (Photo: Florida Department of State)

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Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has been one of the more vocal lawmakers on the issue. He has filed a proposal (SCR 324) to rescind the designation of the mockingbird as the state bird. 

In tweets back in September, Brandes defended his proposal, saying the state should have a bird that people identify as being from Florida. 

"I should mention that the mockingbird is also the state bird of four other states," Brandes tweeted. "The mockingbird apparently had a very good lobbyist."

Brandes’ proposal does not suggest a replacement bird, but others have.

In October, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission added its support of doing away with the mockingbird as the state bird, offering the osprey as a potential replacement. 

Osprey in flight (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission photo by Andy Wraithmell)

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"It taught civics, taught birds and got a lot of young students, I think, from the fourth to seventh grade involved in voting," said FWC Assistant Executive Director Thomas Eason. "Over 77,000 students were involved in that and actually voted on a slate of birds. And the osprey was the winner."

FWC also unsuccessfully backed a change during the 2009 legislative session.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Boca Raton) and Rep. Sam Killebrew (R-Winter Haven) have proposed legislation (SB 378 and HB 207) to designate the scrub jay as the state bird. 

Florida scrub jay (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission photo by Craig Faulhaber)

Lawmakers will now have to decide whether to take up the issue during the 2022 legislative session.