Environmental Conservancy of North Port founder Barbara Lockhart.

NORTH PORT — Florida’s scrub jay got five new buddies Tuesday.

City commissioners had supported a move in Tallahassee to make scrub jays the state bird. The northern mockingbird currently wears that crown.

That supportive vote came at Tuesday’s public hearing. It was 5-0.

“I never understood why,” Commissioner Alice White said of the mockingbird’s status. “They’re like orange blossoms … not even native to Florida.”

In introducing the supportive vote, Commissioner Debbie McDowell said the mockingbird in the 1920s was never confirmed as the state bird, adding that “we have many (scrub jays) right here in town … an abundant presence in North Port.”

North Port’s push for scrub jays is part of larger statewide effort sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who said of mockingbirds: “They just don’t say Florida.”

While words matter, deeds matter more, said Barbara Lockhart, founder of the Environmental Conservancy of North Port, a nonprofit that had acquired city parcels friendly to scrub jay survival. Scrub jays live high and dry: sand, scrub oaks and undergrowth dotting the ground to hunt and screen themselves from predators. They are federally protected.

Scrub jays have been around for about 2 million years. They’re also the only bird found solely in Florida.

Friends of Wildlife’s Edie Driest said scrub-jays are so-called umbrella creatures, under which other lifeforms thrive. Their diminishment diminishes everything else, she said. “Saving these creatures, and you’re saving a whole ecosystem.”

The groundswell to name scrub jays a state bird is, in part, a letter-writing project dating to 1999. An instructor at Seminole High School, north of Orlando, had then hunted about for a topic. That evolved into arguing for and against scrub jays as the state bird, that teacher, Kris Cole, said.

Those students would testify before Tallahassee lawmakers, urging such action. While that effort died for lack of support, it was recently resuscitated with the school’s Wildlife Conservation Club, said Cole, who still teaches an advanced placement environmental sciences class at Seminole High.

Scrub jays, he added, “are absolutely cool. They mate for life, mourn their dead. Let’s have an original (Florida) bird with family values.”

North Port’s support of the scrub jays is an endorsement of Brandes’s Senate bill, no added protections or developer hoops, said Lockhart, who occasionally visits the Conservancy’s parcels to watch a scrub jay dive-bomb snakes, and that will sit on the head of someone the bird has learned to trust.

“I feel it needs,” she said of the birds, “this kind of attention.”

The Environmental Conservancy of North Port holds an auction to raise cash for scrub jay friendly land purchases. Registration begins Dec. 1. For details, visit 511auction.com and click on the “Auctions” tab. Once there, look for “A Walk On The Wild Side.”


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