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 ...you 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.
Posted by R.Powers at 8:09 AM