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The House Side-Florida State House of Representatives HB17

Battle of the birds: Scrub jay bill flies again

Thank you for your continued support Rep. Killebrew!

Renzo Downey December 6, 2022

"Some lawmakers believe the mockingbird doesn't deserve to be the state bird.

The Florida scrub jay might not be migratory, but calls to honor the bird are returning again for the legislative season.

Winter Haven Republican Rep. Sam Killebrew has again filed legislation (HB 17) to usurp the mockingbird as the state bird. He and fellow birds of a feather say the Florida scrub jay deserves the honorific.

The northern mockingbird is the state bird of five (southern) states: Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and, of course, Florida. Meanwhile, the Florida scrub jay is the only species of bird that is endemic to the Sunshine State.

“What I wanted to do was to be sure that we had something in our state archives that represents just Florida,” Killebrew told Florida Politics. “If we’re going to name a state bird, it ought to be one that is unique to Florida.”

Killebrew and Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky filed similar legislation last Session. And former St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes led a determined yet fruitless effort to strip the mockingbird of the title in favor of an undecided avian.

None of the bills received a single committee hearing, and the effort became a running gag. Brandes tried unsuccessfully to add his bill to the ingredients list for the legislation that designated strawberry shortcake as the state dessert. Polsky jokingly tried trading her strawberry shortcake vote for a scrub jay amendment.

The mockingbird has been Florida’s state bird since the Legislature proclaimed it so in 1927. However, lawmakers have floated the flamingo, osprey and roseate spoonbill as possible replacements.

Miami-Dade Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo gifted Brandes a flamingo statue last year as a display of his preference.

Former NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, who split with the gun rights giant earlier this year, was one of the staunches defenders of the mockingbird. In a Palm Beach Post op-ed last year, Hammer noted that Florida was the first state to adopt the mockingbird as its state bird.

“Scrub-Jays are evil little birds that rob the nests of other birds and eat their eggs and kill their babies,” Hammer wrote. “One might call that street gang behavior in the avian community.”

Scrub jays are similar to blue jays in appearance, with blue wings, head and tail; a gray back and underparts; and a whitish forehead and neck. But unlike blue jays, Aphelocoma coerulescens does not have black markings or a crest.

The scrub jay, stylized as the “Florida scrub-jay” in state documents, is considered threatened by Florida and the federal government. Its range spans much of the Florida Peninsula, but agriculture and development have destroyed parts of its scrub habitat and isolated some populations from larger swathes of habitat.

Fire suppression has also let scrubs grow too dense for jays. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says prescribed burning is essential to conserving the bird.

Scientists are already tracking the Florida scrub jay to keep the friendly, communal bird in check.

“We’re hoping that this may give some extra help,” Killebrew said.

Hammer took the opposite approach in her article.

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

With new leadership in the House and Senate, Killebrew expects the bill will gain traction.

“The leadership this year and next year, I really expect it to go through,” Killebrew said. “If we can get it heard, it will go through.”

Plus, as they say about the early bird, filing the bill ahead of the first interim meetings and securing a low bill might increase the bill’s chances.

However, he isn’t yet certain who will file the Senate version. While Polsky carried the bill last year — and told Florida Politics she intends to file it again — Killebrew is looking for a Republican colleague to help grease the wheels, particularly with the new Republican supermajority. He hopes to find a partner next week, when lawmakers convene for their first committee meetings.

Polsky said she brought the bill to Killebrew ahead of last Session after a constituent, high-schooler Anya Cane, presented Polsky with her pitch for why the scrub jay deserves to be the state bird and a petition to make it happen. Together, Cane and Polsky penned pro-scrub jay side of the op-ed that also featured Hammer.

“The state bird is an official symbol that shows off the natural treasures and highlights the personality of our state,” Cane and Polsky wrote. “The Florida Scrub-Jay is a bird we can be proud of that represents all Floridians and the enchanting nature of Florida.”

If Killebrew and crew are successful, the scrub jay will be immortalized in the Capitol Rotunda — or at least until the wind of change leads the Legislature to scrub the jay with a new bird."

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