Skip to main content
Ormond Beach Observer Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021 1 month ago

Should Florida swap out its current state bird — the mockingbird — for the osprey?

Local birders favor the scrub-jay or iconic Florida birds like the roseate spoonbill instead.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

The mockingbird — Mimus polyglottos, meaning the mimic of many languages — has been Florida's state bird since 1927. But the mockingbird is also the state bird of Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. Is it really the right bird for Florida?

A proposal to remove the mockingbird as the state bird was offered by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is reopening the debate on who should be the state's avian representative, offering a new alternative: the osprey, Pandion haliaetus, also known as the fish hawk.

But given a choice between the mockingbird and the osprey, the choice for some local birders is clear: Neither.

Flagler Audubon President Jason Giraulo said his chapter members tend to favor making the Florida scrub-jay — the only bird that lives exclusively in Florida — Florida's state bird.

It's an idea also favored by two legislators, Sen. Tina Polsky (D- Boca Raton) and Rep. Sam Killebrew (R-Winter Haven).

"Both times over the past two decades, the scrub-jay has been suggested, and for some reason or another, was always shot down," Giraulo said.

He suspects developers, in particular, may not be enthusiastic about making the state bird a species that's been decimated by development. 

When Giraulo started birding in Flagler eight years ago, he said, birders knew of three scrub-jays remaining in Flagler; now, as far as they know, there are none.

Using the scrub-jay as the state bird would have the benefit of making Florida's state bird unique, Giraulo noted.

A Florida scrub-jay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Photo by Dan Casper, NASA

But when the switch to the scrub-jay had been proposed in the '90s, the mockingbird had also earned an enthusiastic supporter in the person of Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

Hammer's backing of the mockingbird helped kill the campaign for the scrub-jay, said Halifax River Audubon President and Conservation Chair David Hartgrove.

But the osprey, like the mockingbird, is found nationwide ; other species of osprey are found on all continents except Antarctica. 

And, Giraulo said, ospreys don't really scream "Florida" — not nearly as much as, say, the state pie (key lime) or the state flower (the orange blossom). For that purpose, something like the flamingo might be a better pick, he said. 

The mockingbird. Public domain image, National Park Service














Hartgrove agreed. 

"Personally, I would prefer to see a bird that’s suffered population declines and is an iconic, easily identified species, like the roseate spoonbill, become our state bird," Hartgrove said. "However, I have my doubts that anything serious will be done to change the status quo."

When the FWC put the question of the state bird before 77,000 elementary- and middle-schoolers in 2008, there had been a clear winner — the osprey — so that's the species the commission has proposed as an alternative this year.

"The osprey is a good, non controversial choice for Florida’s state bird," Hartgrove said. "Ever since the banning of DDT in 1972, the populations of all of the birds at the top of the aquatic food chain (ospreys, bald eagles, brown pelicans, etc.) have seen resurgent population increases. So there are plenty of ospreys for people to see, not only along our coasts, but inland as well."

Giraulo also noted the osprey's status as a conservation success story.

"No matter what the state bird is, the most important thing — whether it’s protecting whatever little scrub-jay habitat exists, or celebrating the survival of the osprey — is that it’s important for people to connect with what nature we have here," Giraulo said. "Because it could be gone in an instant."

Related Stories