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Mockingbird reigns as state bird; scrub jay grounded

By SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's state bird, the mockingbird, is safe for another year.

By a 6-2 vote Thursday, the House Committee on Governmental Operations killed Rep. Howard Futch's two-year effort to replace the mockingbird with the scrub jay, which he called "a very, very friendly bird."

"I do think that's what Florida is all about -- being friendly," said Futch, a Melbourne Beach Republican. "And we need a friendly bird."

Futch took up the scrub jay's cause after schoolchildren in his district wrote letters asking for the change. The mockingbird has held the symbolic post since 1927.

"We all have term limits, as you well know, and I think that in 73 years it's time for a change," argued Futch, one of many lawmakers who leaves office this year because of term limits.

Rep. Ken Littlefield, a Republican from Dade City, tried to kill the bill by attaching an amendment that would re-install the mockingbird as the state bird. The amendment failed, but Futch's bill died anyway.

The scrub jay squawks, Littlefield said, and "there are those who have said it will get on your nerves real quickly."

Then, in an odd exchange with Futch, Littlefield asked: "Have you ever tasted a scrub jay?"

"How many panthers have you seen?" Futch replied.

"There are those who think the scrub jay tastes a lot like panther," said Littlefield.

And, he added, chicken, too.

The scrub jay is officially listed as a species of special concern. The Florida panther, an endangered species, is even rarer.

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