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  1. Opinion

Ruth: The case against the scrub jay as Florida's state bird

Florida Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, wants to make the scrub jay the state bird. The sandhill crane, above, is a much better choice.
Florida Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, wants to make the scrub jay the state bird. The sandhill crane, above, is a much better choice.
Published Jan. 6, 2016

Clearly Rep. Mark Pafford has become a huckster for the all-powerful scrub jay lobby in Tallahassee. Have you no shame, sir?

A few days ago, Pafford, D-Smock Smock!, penned a column arguing the Legislature should jettison the mockingbird as the official state bird in favor of the equally puny scrub jay. The great mockingbird vs. scrub jay battle could take weeks of the Legislature's upcoming session, relieving lawmakers of the burden of actually doing anything of consequence over the next 60 days.

Pafford, D-Tweety, offers a lengthy bill of particulars to disqualify the mockingbird's 88-year-long run as Florida's official winged creature. He calls the lowly mockingbird an "obnoxious, plagiarizing and promiscuous bully" that torments the public by its mere existence. In addition, the lawmaker notes, narcissistic mockingbirds ignore their children and incessantly, annoyingly, self-importantly and loudly bleep at all hours of the day and night.

You would be hard-pressed to find a better description of the Florida Legislature.

Pafford, D-Daffy, argues the scrub jay's case for immortality by noting the species' family-friendly reputation. Scrub jays work together, or so Pafford claims. And its blue and slate coloring makes the scrub jay infinitely more attractive than the dull, ugly mockingbird that is to ornithology what Donald Trump is to elegant understatement.

Pafford, D-Woodstock, observes that since there has never been an official statute passed designating it as the state bird, the mockingbird essentially has been squatting on an ill-gotten title for almost 100 years. Perhaps he has a fair case that the mockingbird is sort of the illegitimate state bird. Perhaps it even originated in Kenya.

But the scrub jay? Really? Does Pafford, D-Tennessee Tuxedo, truly want to replace the boorish mockingbird with the aviary equivalent of a feathered milquetoast?

What is it with Tallahassee's preoccupation with having state birds the size of a stapler? If the Florida Legislature had its way, the official state dog would be a Lhasa apso.

If Pafford wants to supplant the boorish mockingbird, nature's answer to Don Rickles, fine. But forget the scrub jay. Let's go big or go home.

The extinct Dodo bird is probably out of the question. And besides, people might confuse it with Gov. Rick Scott.

Is there a more majestic bird worthy of official state status than the glorious sandhill crane? Now there's a bird for you.

They are big. They are not to be trifled with. They are monogamous. In flight or merely grazing, the sandill crane is a thing of beauty. The sound of a sandhill crane resembles a bad French horn player. But that is part of their charm.

Or think of it this way. Unless you are an avid birder walking through the woods, most of us wouldn't know a mockingbird or a scrub jay from Heckle and Jeckle. Or care. But a sandhill crane? Once you've come upon one of these creatures you know you've been in the presence of a real bird.

So why would Pafford, D-The Birdman of Apalachee Parkway, suddenly become the scrub jay's champion? He is term-limited out of office this year. So it seems obvious the West Palm Beach lawmaker sold out to scrub jay special interests who want to cash in on the notoriety from being accorded "Florida's Official State Bird." It ain't chicken feed.

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We all know how the Tallahassee insider power game is played.

With a wink here, a nod there and perhaps a peck or two, Pafford, D-Roadrunner, agrees to carry the scrub jay lobby's water during the session. And once the scrawny little nothing-burger of a bird pulls off the coup d'chirp and the mockingbird has been given the bum's rush, Pafford, D-Hedwig, would be nicely situated for a post-legislative career as the official state (fill in the blank) go-to guy.

Pafford, D-Maltese Falcon, played the sympathy card in his column, noting as a lame scrub jay, this would be his final political campaign on behalf of a bird. Very touching.

But his work is far from done. There is still time for Pafford, D-Albatross, to introduce a measure creating the official "Florida Scrub Jay Cookbook." Yummers.

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