Tina Polsky restarting bird wars to replace northern mockingbird with Florida scrub-jay as state’s official avian
Earlier this year, FWC research biologists relocated nine Florida scrub-jays from Ocala National Forest to Seminole State Forest, located about 20 miles away.

Will the Florida scrub-jay overcome its sedentary nature and fly through the legislative process to become state bird?

The effort to coronate the Florida scrub-jay as the official state bird — and potentially knock the northern mockingbird off its official perch — has begun again.

Sen. Tina Polsky of Boca Raton has filed a bill (SB 162), following up on last year’s legislation that also inspired a companion in the House. But neither piece of legislation (SB 78/HB 17) flew out of even one committee, even if the measure did draw bipartisan support.

Still, Polsky is undeterred — especially since the bird war draws so much media attention.

“I’m happy to keep the conversation going, even if it doesn’t go anywhere,” Polsky said.

Just like the scrub-jay, which is said to favor one scrubby spot and considered “sedentary.”

Besides Florida, four other states — Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas — have designated the northern mockingbird their official winged wonder. In that, Polsky sees a reason to remove the bird from its Florida bonafides.

“If we’re going to bother to name state things, we might as well name things that make sense for our state,” Polsky said. “It’s not the most important thing in the world, but at the same time … we should have a bird that makes sense for our state and not shared with three or four other states.”

There might be California scrub-jays and Woodhouse scrub-jays, but the boldly colored Florida scrub-jay with a bright blue head is the only bird native to the Sunshine State. Northern mockingbirds, on the other hand, are not so picky about where to put down a nest — they are found across the country, Mexico and occasionally Canada, according to the Audubon Society.

Polsky herself has not laid eyes on the 10-inch bird that lives in Florida scrublands, mostly in Central Florida.

Still, the Florida scrub-jay’s legislative advocacy has produced some fans of the trilling and warbling species that the federal government has designated as “threatened” due to its loss of habitat.

Seminole County last March designated the Florida scrub-jay the official Seminole County bird after students from the Seminole High School Conservation Club made the case for this Florida bird.

Still, the official designation of the northern mockingbird has some powerful backers. Former NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer wrote an essay that has appeared in the The Palm Beach Post and City & State defending the northern mockingbird’s honored place.

“The Mockingbird is a well established, independent, prolific bird that doesn’t need government protection or our tax dollars to survive,” Hammer wrote.

To that, Polsky scoffs. She was inspired to the cause by the advocacy of one of her young constituents, Anya Cane, a student at Florida Atlantic University High School.

“The arguments (against designating the Florida scrub-jay as the state bird) are kind of ridiculous,” Polsky said. “The scrub-jay is a welfare bird? It’s almost taking it to a cultural level, making it political, which is ridiculous.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

One comment

  • Arthur Radley

    November 27, 2023 at 1:35 pm

    If they knew what the book was about, they wouldn’t be picking the mockingbird to be Florida’s state bird unless they’re racists or something. Boo.

Comments are closed.


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