Florida’s official state bird is the mockingbird, a small bird with a grey back, white belly, and black and white wings and tail. You have likely seen this bird hopping around in your yard as it picks insects from the ground or heard it singing during the day and night. Not only are mockingbirds common in Florida, but they also have unique characteristics and an interesting history that make them worthy of being the state bird.
Mockingbirds are fierce protectors of their homes and are known to swoop down and peck at animals venturing too close to their nests. They prefer to nest in thickets near lawns with short grass or dirt, which is why they are often found in the suburbs. Mockingbirds breed in the late winter, beginning when the male chooses a territory to make a nest. The male will then start forming multiple nests until a female chooses one to complete building and lay her eggs in. The males will usually build the foundations of the nest with strong twigs, leaving the females to stuff it with soft weeds and grasses. Once the female lays her eggs, she incubates them for around two weeks before they hatch. Both the male and female mockingbirds will take care of the hatchlings together for another two weeks before the hatchlings leave the nest.
Male mockingbirds can learn as many as two hundred songs in their lifetimes, which made them highly desirable caged birds in the nineteenth century. Their songs became so popular in some U.S. cities that caged mockingbirds were being sold for as much as fifty dollars, which would be the equivalent of over one thousand five hundred dollars today! Due to their high demand, mockingbirds became very scarce in the wild and were only able to repopulate after the caged bird trade ended. Mockingbirds are protected by the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act, meaning that it is illegal to hunt, capture, sell, or trade these birds without special permission, despite the suggestion from the title of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Florida designated the mockingbird as the state bird in 1927, and it has since had some challengers. Over the years, the Florida government has entertained suggestions to change the state bird to one that is more distinctly Floridian, like the flamingo or the scrub-jay. Although mockingbirds are native to Florida, they are also native to many other southern states and are the state birds of Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. However, the commonness of mockingbirds is one reason some people support it as the state bird. Any Floridian can go outside and admire the mockingbird’s song, whereas flamingos and scrub-jays are not commonly found in all areas of Florida. If you are interested in seeing the state bird of Florida today, all you need to do is go out to your back yard and listen for the many songs of the mockingbird!
Home & Yard Magazine