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Bird is the word as Florida ponders a change to the official avian symbol

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto wants the wildlife agency to renew efforts to designate a “state bird” that is unique to Florida.

“The state bird of Florida is the (northern) mockingbird. However, five other states have the mockingbird as the state bird,” Barreto said Thursday during a commission meeting in Daytona Beach. “I’ve got to believe we can find a bird that is different than five other states.”

Barreto recalled the agency holding a contest with fourth- and fifth-grade students about designating a new state bird. “I want to kinda dust that off” with a new process “and come up with something,” Barreto said.

In 2008, a commission project led to more than 77,000 students voting on a new state bird as a tie-in with that year’s presidential election.

The commission backed a change in the 2009 legislative session and revived the effort in 2022. But the northern mockingbird has maintained its perch as Florida’s avian symbol, which it has held since 1927.

Bills backing the scrub jay have made several appearances in recent sessions.

This year, a Senate committee voted 3-2 to support a bill (SB 918) that would have designated the flamingo, but the bill subsequently died. Among the most influential supporters of keeping the mockingbird has been former longtime National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer.

“Since being designated the state bird in 1927, the mockingbird is a well-established, independent, prolific bird that has never needed government protection or our tax dollars to survive,” Hammer wrote in a 2021 opinion piece. “It can be seen, watched, studied and enjoyed by children and adults in all areas of Florida.”

Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas also have the northern mockingbird as their state birds.

The News Service of Florida is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.