Since 1927, the northern mockingbird has served as the state bird of Florida. But lawmakers in the Sunshine State have put into motion multiple bills that would designate the flamingo as Florida’s most popular bird.
On Dec. 6, Rep. Jim Mooney, R-Islamorada, and Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach, introduced HB 753, known appropriately as American Flamingo, which would see the fabulous fowl supersede the mockingbird as the state’s winged representative. One week later, State Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, filed SB 918, also called American Flamingo, and also aimed at elevating the pink bird to pole position.
The Senate bill made it through the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, 3-2, on Jan. 16. The next step is for the Fiscal Policy Committee to hear the bill.
The bird has long been an unofficial wingman for the state. The Florida Lottery includes the flamingo in its logo, the Tampa International Airport made a massive statement with its giant flamingo sculpture, Phoebe, that was unveiled in 2022, and the bird’s resurgence in wild habitats has made it a more frequent topic of conversation.
The inspiration for this legislation came to Chaney after a flamingo stranded in the Tampa Bay area thanks to Hurricane Idalia in September made headlines locally and attracted internet attention. The bird came to be known as Peaches, and the excitement around it had the representative thinking.
“That got so much attention from the public and so much support that it made me think that that is a great mascot for the state of Florida,” Chaney told Kathryn Varn of Axios Tampa Bay in December.
But the flamingo is not the only bird in contention to knock out the mockingbird. State Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, submitted SB 162 on Oct. 10 to replace the mockingbird with the Florida scrub-jay. The bill’s later action was an introduction to the Senate on Jan. 9. The momentum behind the play to give the job to the fabulous fowl appears to be stronger, though, at least at this stage.
The mockingbird has held a grasp on Florida for nearly a century, and it is also the state bird of four other states: Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. Its monopoly in the Sunshine State has been questioned before - this is the seventh instance in 25 years that a conversation to remove the bird has begun, the last of such talks occuring in 2021. But as of yet, none have been successful. Perhaps the seventh time will be the charm. If it is, the flamingo could be the state bird of Florida by July 1.
Within the last handful of years, flamingo history within Florida has become more widely recognized. A study conducted in 2018 looked into whether flamingos are native to the state despite more than a century of vacancy, and it discovered that the fabulous fowl has a rich history in the area. With these conclusions has come a greater campaign to conserve flamingos in Florida’s wildlife habitats. Changing weather patterns appear to be bringing the bird back, too.
That doesn’t mean Florida is teaming with untamed flamingos. Quite the opposite, actually. But how uncommon they are, at least for now, is part of their allure, according to biologist Ruscena Wiederholt.
“For serious bird enthusiasts, flamingos’ rarity is actually a draw,” the member of the Florida Flamingos Working Group wrote in an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel in April of last year. “When a flock of nearly 150 flamingos landed in the stormwater treatment areas of Palm Beach County, the local Audubon Society launched weekend bird-watching trips that attracted thousands of visitors from across the U.S. This happens elsewhere, too - large flocks of flamingos attract ecotourists in Mexico, The Bahamas, and Bonaire. In the U.S., wild flamingos occur only in Florida and recovering populations of these blushing beauties would undoubtedly attract tourists.”
Happy to share that after years of planning, we have a house resolution promoting the American Flamingo as the State Bird of Florida! This is an obvious choice, but I'm biased 🦩 https://t.co/6ijMj7nLhM— Dr. Steven Whitfield (@S_M_Whitfield) December 13, 2023
Add in the bird’s long-standing association with the state, and flamingo proponents say it’s an open and closed case.
“If you ask somebody to identify a bird with Florida, I think a flamingo would be top of the list,” Chaney said to Axios.