Scrub-Jay Rising: Bill to change Florida state bird revived in bi-partisan 2023 legislation
Graphic by Nic Steinig

Scrub-Jay Rising: Bill to change Florida state bird revived in bi-partisan 2023 legislation

A long-contested effort to change the Florida state bird from the Mockingbird to the Scrub-Jay has once again ignited within the Florida legislature, with a battle forming in the upcoming 2023 legislative session. Florida Sen. Tina Posky (D-Boca Raton) filed Senate Bill 78 in mid-December, and Rep. Sam Killebrew (R-Lakeland) filed companion bill House Bill 17 in the Florida House of Representatives around the same time. This bi-partisan legislation is to the point, offering a few dozen lines proposing that the Scrub-Jay become the official bird of Florida. 

Yet, opposing the bill is the now-retired NRA lobbyist Marion P. Hammer, who has single-handedly rallied legislatures against changing the Florida state bird for over two decades.

The feud began in 1999 when Seminole County high-school students posited that the state bird should be changed to something other than the Mockingbird. As rationale, they argued that the Mockingbird is already the state bird of several other states, including Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee—the same argument levied by Scrub-Jay advocates today. 

The Scrub-Jay, they argued, is a bird native to Florida. It also is exceptionally friendly and known to approach humans. Yet, these are precisely the kind of traits that caused Hammer to bludgeon their plan by wielding the political influence she garnered as a well-known lobbyist. According to Hammer, the Scrub-Jay’s willingness to eat out of human hands signified a kind of “welfare-mentality” unbecoming of the Sunshine State. 

As efforts to overhaul the state bird to something indigenous to Florida reemerge after decades of rebuffs, so too has Hammer returned from life as a retiree to impress the importance of retaining the Mockingbird as the official bird of Florida and crack the whip of opposition. In an opinion piece published at the Tallahassee Democrat, Hammer writes:

“They have no legitimate or justifiable reason for making the change. It was a scam for extreme environmentalists to get tax dollars and designate areas of Central Florida as ‘protected…’ Scrub-Jays can’t even sing.  They only have an irritating squawk… Scrub-Jays are known to be evil little birds that steal other birds’ eggs and kill the babies of other birds…. The Mockingbird is a well-established, independent, prolific bird that doesn’t need government protection or our tax dollars to survive.” 

Only time will tell whether Hammer, who seems to be legitimately enamored by the beauty of Mockingbirds and has shown an uncanny willingness to defend its state designation for decades, will turn the tide of another legislative session aiming to make the Scrub-Jay Florida’s official bird. 

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