Florida is famous for its subtropical and tropical coast, expansive swampy wetlands, and miles and miles of popular beaches. From alligators to manatees to visiting tropical birds from Central and South America, Florida is also unique for its huge range of diverse wildlife. Many Floridian animals are scarcely found in the rest of the United States, thanks to Florida’s unique habitats and climate. The crown jewel of Florida’s natural landscape is the Everglades. This massive stretch of wetlands is the largest subtropical wetlands in the United States and is home to some of Florida’s rarest and most exceptional avian inhabitants, any one of whom would be a fantastic contender for Florida’s state bird.
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It may surprise you to learn, if you do not already know, that Florida’s official state bird is not one of these unique wetlands inhabitants. In fact, Florida’s state bird is one of the most common state birds, shared by Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. The Northern Mockingbird was chosen as Florida’s state bird in 1927. Common across the United States, this common backyard songbird is renowned for both its mimicry and its attitude.
But some in Florida do not agree with the Northern Mockingbird as a state representative. This has culminated in the proposal of a few potential candidates. A recent bill has suggested that the American Flamingo should replace the Northern Mockingbird. American Flamingos were once a somewhat common sight in parts of Florida and are often used as a symbol for the flamboyant tropical spirit of Florida’s coast. They vanished from the state in the mid-twentieth century, only to slowly climb in sightings over decades. Today, they are rare in Florida, but have been confirmed as Florida natives.
Being wetlands birds that seem to represent Florida’s unique character has made the American Flamingo an obvious candidate for replacing the Northern Mockingbird. There is, however, another strong contender for this distinction.
The Florida Scrub-jay is Florida’s only exclusive native bird. It is found nowhere else in the United States or the rest of the world. This gregarious blue corvid is a relative of crows and ravens and is close in appearance to the California Scrub-jays of the Pacific Northwest. Florida Scrub-jays are considered threatened and have declined in recent years due to habitat loss and the mismanagement of vital scrub habitats.
Florida Scrub-jay supporters insist that this bird is an ideal representative for Florida because it is distinctly Floridian and represents the unique beauty and challenges posed by Florida’s natural habitat.
Whether the American Flamingo or the Florida Scrub-jay are to replace the Northern Mockingbird remains to be seen, but it is noteworthy that both contenders are currently facing significant conservation challenges within Florida. Hopefully, both birds will benefit from the added awareness that this discussion brings.