The Florida Scrub Jay is the state’s only endemic bird.
The oldest Florida Scrub Jay recorded was at least 15 years old when it was captured and released during a banding operation in Florida in the 1990s.
Since then, several studies have been done about these birds and their habits.
Here’s what you should know.
1. What is the Florida Scrub Jay?
A Florida Scrub Jay (or Aphelocoma Coerulescens) is a round-headed, blue and gray North American bird that lives exclusively in the state of Florida.
It occurs in patches of low-growing scrub oak in sandy soils.
It perches tall with its long tail hanging down, and it hops over the ground burying acorns to return to.
The jay is a social bird that creates extended family groups to live in.
If it isn’t a parent itself, then it serves as a “helper.”
It stays with its parents and helps to raise their young until they get a territory of their own.
Unfortunately, extensive development and habitat fragmentation in Florida threaten the small population of Florida Scrub Jays.
This species is on the federal endangered species list.
In the early 1990s, the total population was estimated at 4,000 pairs.
This represents a reduction of nearly 90 percent from the bird’s original numbers.
The current population is estimated at around 7,700 to 9,300 birds.
The primary issue prompting this loss is habitat.
We’ll discuss the endangerment of the Florida Scrub Jay in more detail below.
2. Where can you find the Florida Scrub Jay?
Despite being endangered, the Florida Scrub Jay is still relatively easy to find.
We recommend visiting a Florida reserve like the Archbold Biological Station or Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
You should keep your eyes peeled for a medium-sized, long-tailed, blue songbird that perches high atop shrubs or pine snaps.
You may also see the jay hopping in the road searching for crickets.
Here is a list of a few other Florida state parks where you may be able to find them.
Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park: This park is located in Central Florida and has hiking trails where jays can be spotted
Beker – South Fork uplands: There’s lots of scrub, scrubby flatwoods, mesic flatwoods, mesic hammocks, and small pockets of sandhill that are optimal for jays
Blue Springs State Park: The Pine Island Trail winds for 4 miles through sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, and freshwater marsh which is ideal for jays
Jonathan Dickinson State Park: This park provides a large stretch of protected scrub jay habitat in Southeast Florida
Lake June-in-Winter Scrub State Park near Lake Placid: Serves as home to numerous rare animals including the Florida Scrub Jay
North Peninsula State Park: Has coastal scrub habitat for jays
Rock Springs Run State Reserve: Its desert-like sand pine scrub hosts Florida Scrub Jays
Savannas Preserve State Park: This area protects some of the last continuous coastal scrub strands in southeast Florida
Seabranch State Park: Has sand pines and an understory where you can spot scrub jays
Oscar Scherer State Park: Home to scrubby flatwoods where Florida Scrub Jays create habitats
3. What is the feeding behavior of the Florida Scrub Jay?
These birds forage on the ground and in the trees, typically in flocks.
They also like to harvest several acorns at one time and bury them in an area where they’re able to return to and retrieve them later.
4. What is the process of laying eggs?
Florida Scrub Jays normally lay 3 to 4 eggs; although, this can range anywhere from 2 to 6.
The eggs are usually light green and spotted with olive or brown.
They’re incubated by a female for 17 to 18 days.
During this time, the male feeds the female.
After hatching, the young are fed by both parents and helpers in the nesting group.
Young leave the nest around 18 days after hatching.
Florida Scrub Jays produce 1 brood per year (or sometimes 2).
5. What is the diet of the Florida Scrub Jay?
The diet of the Florida Scrub Jay primarily consists of acorns and arthropods.
For most seasons, acorns make up a major part of the diet.
However, these birds also eat a wide variety of insects in the summer in addition to spiders and snails.
Other supplements to the diet may include berries, seeds, and small vertebrates such as reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and the eggs and young of small birds.
6. What is the nesting habit of the Florida Scrub Jay?
The Florida Scrub Jay breeds in cooperative flocks.
This means that each nesting territory (typically around 22 to 24 acres) is occupied by an adult pair as well as one to six helpers.
These helpers are typically the pair’s offspring from previous years who haven’t left the nest immediately.
Because a family takes up a permanent territory of 22 to 24 acres, young birds often have difficulty finding a suitable space for a family of their own.
These helpers assist with feeding the young and defending the territory.
Research shows that a couple with helpers is likely to raise more young than a couple without.
Florida Scrub Jays normally nest in either a tree or shrub.
Sand live oak is strongly favored (although, any type of oak is okay).
The nest itself is low at only 3 to 4 feet above the ground.
It’s constructed by both sexes and built as a thick wall of twigs, grass, moss, plant fibers, and fine rootlets.
7. How do young Florida Scrub Jays behave?
Unlike other young birds, offspring don’t leave the nest immediately to raise their young.
They often stay with their parents to help raise next year’s brood.
Overall, this helps contribute to higher birth rates.
Living in high numbers has its benefits.
For example, individual members of the family can watch for hawks while the rest of the family searches for food.
The lookout provides an alarm call if a hawk or snake is spotted.
8. What are the migration habits of Florida Scrub Jays?
These birds are highly sedentary “homebodies”.
They rarely move from patches of appropriate habitats (i.e., scrub oak) even for short distances.
Because there has been increased fragmentation of their habitat in Florida, the population of Florida Scrub Jays is now highly isolated.
Jays exist on the Atlantic Coast, central Florida, and southwestern Florida.
They are separated by less than 100 miles.
Despite this, they have different vocalizations.
9. How can you help with the endangerment of Florida Scrub Jays?
Here are a few tips that can help you support the Florida Scrub Jay as they’re currently endangered.
Plant and protect scrub patches on your property: This helps provide a habitat for them.
Maintain a maximum height of 10 feet for vegetation if you live on or near a jay habitat.
Protect jays from family pets like cats: You should also encourage the passage and strict enforcement of community leash laws for dogs and cats, so the birds aren’t in danger.
Restrict the use of pesticides: These pesticides can limit and contaminate the insects consumed by jays.
Support the establishment of Florida Scrub Jay preserves: Ensuring that the proper habitats are available is essential for protecting this species.
Do not hand-feed the jays: This is both illegal and dangerous to their well-being.
10. How do scrub jay habitats impact landowners?
Florida scrub jays prefer high dry land, which is the same type of land that humans like to build homes on.
All Florida land in “scrubby” areas must be surveyed for jays before the land can be altered.
If scrub jays aren’t present, then development can continue as usual.
However, when scrub jays are present, landowners aren’t necessarily free to use their Florida land however they’d like.
Often, they need to take certain actions before clearing or impacting their property per federal regulations.
An incidental take permit is a permit issued by the USFWS (US Fish and Wildlife Service) to permit impact of any kind to an endangered species, including the degradation of its habitat.
You must have an HCP to obtain an incidental take permit.
The HCP is a plan of how the impacts will be dealt with, such as avoidance, minimization, and mitigation.
Be sure to check with your county before beginning this process.
Some counties, such as Charlotte, have created a county-wide HCP in partnership USFWS as a means to streamline the process for the builder or landowner.
Under the county-wide HCP, certain properties have already been identified as scrub jay habitat, which means property owners don’t need to commission their own survey.
While this does make it easier for landowners, it can be more expensive to utilize the county-wide HCP because it will often require a mitigation fee.
The fee is intended to go toward the purchase of other areas for scrub jays to live in as well as the management of those areas.
The HCP is intended to be a win-win situation that mitigates any negative effects.
11. What is the process of getting an incidental take permit?
It can take a lot of time for landowners to get an incidental take permit to disrupt land where Florida Scrub Jays live…even if it’s land they own!
First, you’ll need to get a survey conducted by a qualified biologist.
Federal and county agencies do not have the time or manpower to do these permits.
You’ll need to hire either an environmental or biological consultant to assist with the process.
The surveys must be done when the scrub jays are most likely to respond to survey methods.
This is during nesting season when they are defending their territories.
Get a survey done from March to October if you want to get an incidental take permit.
You can perform a survey outside of this period if it’s unrelated to obtaining a permit (ex: investigating a property to purchase it or monitoring the birds for land management purposes).
Keep in mind that it can take anywhere from a month to more than a year after you have the survey done for USFWS to review your application.
It doesn’t matter if you need a permit or not.
Make sure you plan ahead and account for this delay!
After the incidental take permit is issued, you’re allowed to make changes to your property (the habitat) as planned.
You’ll still need to obtain any local county or city building permits necessary for your project.
Once you’ve received your federal permit, you have one year to start construction.
There is no limit on finish time once you’ve begun.
If you haven’t started construction, then you’ll need to complete the survey process again and resubmit it.
In the future, the survey results and incidental take permit is transferrable with the property.
If/when you sell your property, be sure to provide this information to the buyer because it can be helpful for them.
If you currently live in Florida or you’re looking to buy land there, keep an eye out for the Florida Scrub Jay.
This beautiful bird is endangered and needs help from human stewards to restore its population.
Follow the tips above to ensure you’re helping to protect your land and support their population.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants, or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.