Saturday, September 03, 2005

A Unique Florida Bird...See It While You Can...

This perky bird is a Florida Scrub Jay. Like the gopher tortoise, they are an isolated population of animals with very similar kin out west. Our scrub jays need the dry, open, fire maintained habitat that we call SCRUB. Unfortunately, this is the same dry habitat that is valued by humans for homesites and orange groves.

In Florida, scrub is found either along coastal sandy dune areas or inland on the sandy highlands that run down the spine of the peninsula. Scrub is fire maintained, meaning that frequent natural fires prevent the growth of large trees. Instead of a tall forest, the scrub is characterized by drought stunted oaks, a variety of xeric herbs and grasses, and sandy areas cleared by fires.

This almost desert is the ONLY habitat the scrub jay can use. It doesn't adapt to the nearby pine forest when a condo goes up on it's patch of scrub. It just fades away.

The jay in the picture inhabited a small patch of coastal scrub a few miles south of Marineland of Florida back in the 80's. This was one of a mated pair. I was able to get this curious jay in close with a pssshhh, pssshhh birders know what that is, even if the spelling is strange.

That patch of scrub is gone now, several multimillion dollar homes sit there, a few hundred feet from the ocean that will claim them some day.

The scrub jay is officially listed as threatened by the USFWS and so is in a precarious position. The good news is that a lot of our coastal parks are using fire to manage scrub habitat and keep it open and appropriate for the scrub jay's needs.

I am hopefully optimistic about their survival since we have some extensive scrub lands protected in parks and conservation areas. The big danger for those populations is (just my opinion) the introduction of bird diseases like West Nile and some influenza strains. I'm not an ornithologist, but I suppose inbreeding could become a problem for some of the smaller isolated populations.

I haven't seen a scrub jay in years.

My kids have never seen a Florida Scrub Jay.

I need to fix that.
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pablo said...

Would this be the same type of bird as I saw in the moutains of Colorado? They had some blue jays there that everyone called scrub jays. (I also have a brother named Jay, and when he was growing up, he usually needed to be scrubbed. But that's probably not the same thing.)

I guess I need to be more careful about my use of the term "scrub" on my blog. What I probably mean is "understory growth." But as I'm walkin' the woods, any low growing plants that impede my flow get the epithet "scrub."

thingfish23 said...

You'd have to travel a while, but there are places in cebtral Florida that still have scrub jays. My sister has pictures of her and the kids out there with jays perched on their heads and stuff.

I can ask her where she was and het back to you, FC.

Floridacracker said...

My ancient Golden Bird guide makes it out to be the same species with about a 1000+ mile gap between the Florida and Western populations.
Without doing any other research, I'll just say they are the same...or ours is a slightly different subspecies.

My brother too has those pics. I think he went down to Archbold Research Station...the mecca of scrub afficianodos.

Anonymous said...

Scrub Jays can perch on their heads? It must be tough for them to balance that way. Maybe it's like yoga or something.

(Hmmm. Can't leave my name.)


Floridacracker said...

Anonymous Pablo,
RD was having the same problem the other day...not sure what blogger is doing, but glad you visited.

Deb said...

On the topic of birding, are there many painted buntings in your area? When I was six years old and visiting my grandparents on the St. Johns River, we went into St. Augustine to visit some friends of theirs. I passed the time watching their bird feeder, and had the good fortune to see a painted bunting. That moment got me started on a lifelong love of birds and bird watching.

It's too bad we humans can't adapt to ecosystems instead of altering them to suit our own (ridiculous) tastes.

Floridacracker said...

The painted buntings are fantastic aren't they? Like something from the Amazon. Sadly, they are bird of coastal wetlands the maritime forest. Exactly the part of FL that has been so harshly developed. Pretty special to see one now. My mom in St. Aug. had one this year at her feeders and I think my brother did too.
How neat that you remember the moment your bird fascination began!

Hick said...

Golly Gee! What I learn by going to this site. We have scrub jays all over the place out here only about 1500 feet lower elevation than the Hick house. I grew up with them and never knew they were protected. I see them at my dad's house all the time. Maybe I should have more respect for them.

Here in the higher elevations we have Stellers Jays (they look like cardinals, only blue) that make the most gawdawful racket. I like 'em anyway because they love to yell at the cats.

Floridacracker said...

On my few trips out west, I was amazed at your jay variety. I doubt if your western scrubjays have special protection. Ours is a tiny isolated population.
Oh, and! what cool birds! We don't have em.