In 1909 the Florida Legislature designated the orange blossom as our state flower. In 1982, the Legislature designated the Florida panther as our state animal. In 1987 the Legislature designated the American alligator as our state reptile. Do you know that our state bird is?
As Florida is surrounded by water on three sides, you would imagine it would be a water-oriented bird. According to the comprehensive book, "The Nature Lover's Guide to Pine Island," some water-related birds on Pine Island are the brown pelican; great blue heron; great egret; tricolored heron; wood stork; little blue heron; snowy egret; green heron; yellow-crowned night heron; ibis; roseate spoonbill; kingfisher; frigate; cormorant; anhinga; fish crow; laughing gull and royal tern. Is the state bird one of these guys? Nope.
How about the majestic osprey? Wrong again.
In Florida there are a total of 498 native birds, 15 established non-native birds and 4 native species now considered extinct. So there were a large number of candidates to select from for the distinction of being our state bird. So which one was chosen?
On April 23, 1927, the Mocking Bird [sic] was adopted as the official Florida state bird by Florida Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 3. The resolution read in part:
"WHEREAS, The Legislature of the State of Florida has thrown the arm of its protecting care around the Mocking Bird by the enactment of suitable legislation and,
WHEREAS, The melody of its music has delighted the heart of residents and visitors to Florida from the days of the rugged pioneer to the present comer, and
WHEREAS, This bird of matchless charm is found throughout our State, therefore
Be It Resolved by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
Section 1. That the Mocking Bird be and it is hereby designated as the State Bird of the State of Florida."
Were the Legislature members drinking something a little stronger than our state beverage, which is orange juice by the way? Certainly, "The melody of its music has delighted the heart of residents and visitors." Mockingbirds are able to sing almost 200 distinct songs, including the songs of other birds. As far their charm, well there are certain times of the year you do not want to venture near their nest. You will think you are on the receiving end of a kamikaze attack if you do. Does the mockingbird foster the chamber of commerce image of what visitors envision of Florida birds? The pelican probably shows up on more pictures taken by visitors each year.
Surprising there is only one water-oriented state bird among all 50 states. The eastern brown pelican is the state bird of Louisiana. In the first half of the 1900s, Louisiana was loaded with pelicans. By 1963 the pelican had vanished from the state. Scientists determined it was the type of pesticides being utilized by agribusiness in the state.
In 1968 a brown pelican restocking program was instituted in Louisiana. This was a joint effort between the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. This successful program consisted of the transport of juvenile pelicans from Florida to release sites in southeastern Louisiana. So, a Florida water bird is a state bird after all. Just for another state.
My suggestion for the Florida state bird how about the snowbird?
For more history of Pine Island, visit the Museum of the Islands, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, 1-4 p.m.
The museum is conveniently located next to the Pine Island Library at 5728 Sesame Drive off Stringfellow Road. Call 239-283-1525.
Tim Knox is museum historian at the Museum of the Islands.