Flipping the Bird

The bill to designate the mockingbird the official state bird of Mississippi was approved unanimously by both houses of the Mississippi Legislature in 1944, which is probably the only time those assemblies totally agreed on anything. Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida followed suit, establishing the Northern mockingbird (fifteen other species of the genus live south of Dixie) as the most popular state bird in the Union.

Mockingbirds are nice enough, of course; they’re sleek and noisy, quite accustomed to human company and iconic of the South. But speaking as a seventh-generation native, I’d like to have an avian symbol for Mississippi that sets us apart from our Great Sister States. Let’s keep the mockingbird, but adopt another winged denizen of our borders to represent us. My nominee is the Mississippi kite, a beautiful raptor that fits well with our state motto: “Virtute et Armis”. These graceful birds can be seen sailing above our woods in the summers, often tumbling in the air as they catch prey on the wing. A pair will usually nest in the same location for years.

I well realize that expecting another unanimous vote on a new state bird is absurd; some fool’s going to suggest a cardinal, another a blue jay and I wouldn’t be surprised if a legislator from the Delta–in the frivolous behavior I’ve found typical of those people–threw a duck in just for fun.

Call me a dreamer, but I like to think we could have a bird of our own; God help us, at least give us that.

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