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  1. Opinion

Column: For 88 years the mockingbird has been Florida's state bird and it doesn't need to change

The Florida scrub jay, with blue coloring, is a frumpy-looking bird that lives in a very small area of the state. The mockingbird is a prolific singer and entertainer.
Published Jan. 12, 2016

In the absence of reliable facts or clear reasoning, proponents of changing the state bird from the mockingbird to the scrub jay resort to emotional arguments and verbal attacks on the mockingbird. Most recently, Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, who filed a bill to make the change, called the mockingbird "an obnoxious, plagiarizing and promiscuous bully."

Actually, mockingbirds are remarkable songbirds that are known to sing up to 200 songs. They are prolific singers and entertainers. That is not obnoxious.

The legendary John J. Audubon, for whom the Audubon Society is named, praised mockingbirds for their appearance, their sweet song and devotion to their families.

Mockingbirds have exceptional vocal abilities and can mimic songs of other birds, insects and the noise of mechanical devices like sports cars and cellphones. Numerous mockingbirds inhabit the trees in the plaza area between the old and new state Capitol buildings in Tallahassee. Through the years it has been a point of amusement and entertainment for people in the plaza to hear a cellphone ring and start reaching for their phones only to realize it was a mockingbird mimicking a cellphone. That is not plagiarizing.

Additionally, mockingbirds chase off intruders, whether it's other birds, humans or animals, who get too close to their nests. Protecting their homes and babies is not "promiscuous bullying," it's natural behavior for any responsible parent.

The sponsor of the bill, HB 843, recently said we need a state bird that does us proud, sets us apart and serves a greater purpose. He claims the mockingbird is common and does none of those things but that the scrub jay is worthy of having the "honor" of being the state bird.

The state bird is not about "honoring" a bird. It's about representing Florida — that is the "greater purpose." Bird books and bird research publications reveal that the scrub jay is not even a species; it is merely one of four subspecies of the blue jay. And, unlike the mockingbird, the scrub jay can't even sing — it can only squawk.

The scrub jay is not an impressive looking bird. It is smaller and lacks the distinctive crest of the blue jay, and really has no distinctive markings. It is a frumpy-looking little blue and brownish bird that lives exclusively in a very small area of Florida. Their habitat is limited to the scrub oak found in a few Central Florida counties.

While most Floridians frequently see and are familiar with mockingbirds, most have never seen or even heard of a scrub jay. Since it is such a small subspecies located only in scrub oak patches in Central Florida, chances are you will never see one.

In 1927 the mockingbird was designated as the official state bird of Florida. It is a well established, independent, prolific bird that doesn't need government protection or our tax dollars to survive. It can be seen, watched, studied and enjoyed by children and adults on any given day in all areas of Florida.

The mockingbird represents us well and is a symbol and a reflection of our great state. There's an old saying that goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," and that certainly applies in this case.

Marion P. Hammer is a Tallahassee lobbyist who has been involved with keeping the mockingbird the state bird since 1999.

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