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The flamingo may be the logo of the Florida Lottery — but not the state itself. And though previous efforts to make the pink feathered creature the official state bird have failed, a new proposal from Sen. Alexis Calatayud to change the ornithological mascot looks closer to taking flight. 

“Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas of Miami Vice are popping champagne bottles as we speak,” said Mayor Joe Rasco, name dropping the 1980s detective series with the opening sequence of flamingos at the Hialeah Park Race Track.

“The flamingo will definitely unite us. It’s the South Florida bird for sure,” Rasco added.

There is competition in the form of another bill  (SB 162) filed by Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, who wants to make the endangered Florida scrub jay the new state bird. 

Catalayud, a Republican whose District 38 includes Key Biscayne, doesn’t usually talk to the media – saying she prefers to speak to her constituents directly. She didn’t respond to phone calls or emails to her office.

Her bill (SB 918), filed on Dec. 23, follows one in the House 17 days earlier filed by Rep. Jim Mooney, R-Islamorada, and Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach. 

Both bills are still stuck in committees, although the Senate version advanced last month in a close 3-2 vote. No additional hearings have yet been scheduled. 

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Flamingos returned to the peninsula last year after a century’s absence in what was called the pink wave —  thanks to a hurricane and Everglades restoration.

Lost in the discussion is the mockingbird, a year-around resident that was approved as Florida’s state bird in 1927.

A mocking bird sits on a tree perch in Florida. It has been Florida’s state bird since 1927 despite efforts to replace it. (Photo/dirtdiver38 via Pixabay).

However, the mockingbird – an epic purveyor of birdsong that mimics sounds in its environment  –  is shared by other states:  Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.

Ron Magill, spokesman for Zoo Miami, said it would be hard to beat the flamingo as a replacement. “First of all, it’s an iconic bird. I think everybody associates the flamingo with Florida,” he said.

In the 19th Century, the flamingo ended up with a fate worse than the American buffalo. Wanted for its plumage – and its meat by pioneers – the bird vanished from the U.S. “There used to be tens of thousands of them,” Magill said. “They were kind of extirpated from Florida.”

Flamingos surprisingly returned last year to Florida when Hurricane Idalia pushed a flock across the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan.  They found a home due to Everglades restoration in southwest Florida and were even seen canoodling in Tampa Bay.

“Those flamingos are staying and they seem to be thriving in these new historic habitats,” Magill said. “The hope is that they’re going to stay and actually start reproducing.” 

The Florida scrub jay has long been sought as a replacement for Florida’s state bird with passionate supporters and equally passionate critics. (Photo/City of Deltona via Pixabay).

But in the other corner is a less heralded but scrappy foe: the Florida scrub jay. It doesn’t tweet. It screeches just like its more well-known cousin the blue jay. “There’s some hardcore scrub jay people,” Magill said.

The scrub jay is one of 89 birds listed as either threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Florida Legislature entertained making it the state bird in 1999 but well-known NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer came out against the little bird.

“Scrub jays are so lazy and scurrilous they eat the eggs and nestlings of other birds,” Hammer at the time. “That’s not the image we want for our state.”

Talk of changing the state bird to possibly the flamingo or scrub jay started in the Legislature in 2016. A few years ago, scrub jays ended up the subject of some crisis PR, with Polsky co-authoring an op-ed in the Palm Beach Post.

“The Florida Scrub Jay is the only bird endemic to the State of Florida. This idea was first brought to me by a constituent and I was more than happy to carry this bill for the last couple of years,” Polsky said on Tuesday.

Polksy said she filed an amendment to Catalayud’s flamingo bill to require the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to examine alternative state birds , take public input, and make a recommendation. “The legislature would then be directed to vote on the presented choice in the 2025 Legislative Session,” Polsky said.

Scrub jay vs. flamingo seems like an unfair fight. Nobody puts up a plastic scrub jay up in their front yard. Magill said picking the flamingo would be” just a big feather” in the state’s cap.

“From a marketing standpoint, oh my gosh, the flamingo is a goldmine,” Magill said. “It brings so much attention in a positive way not just because it’s a beautiful bird but because it’s a successful conservation story.”

Editor’s note: This updates the previous version with new comments from Sen. Tina Polsky.

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John Pacenti

JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.