The Florida Scrub-Jay is gray and blue about the size of a Mockingbird. Males and females have similar plumage and look alike. They are only found in certain areas of Florida and are entirely dependent on scrub habitats, characterized by several species of “scrub” oaks. Plants found in the scrub are adapted to well-drained, sandy, nutrient poor soils and are dependent on periodic fires. These plants can withstand high seasonal rainfall and extended periods of drought. Scrub-Jays prefer oaks 3 to 10 feet tall and bare sandy openings in the soil where they can bury acorns. The majority of Scrub-Jays on the Treasure Coast live in Jonathon Dickinson State Park and the Savannas Preserve State Park.
The birds are omnivores, eating insects, frogs, reptiles, berries, seeds and acorns. It is estimated that each Jay harvests and buries 6000 to 8000 acorns from August to November for use throughout the year.
They mate for life, do not migrate, but occupy and protect a territory about 25 acres in size. These birds will usually not travel more than 5 miles from where they were hatched. This species is one of the few cooperative breeding birds in the United States. The fledging Jays usually remain with their parents in the territory as “helpers” and will assist in the care of the new siblings, feeding and protecting them. These close-knit family groups have up to 8 members. Studies have shown that breeding pairs with helpers successfully raise more young than do lone pairs. Cooperative breeding benefits the parent birds by increasing defense and care of the young, and also benefits the helpers, as they learn parenting skills prior to raising their own young. A helper is elevated to breeder status once it has it has acquired its own territory. They may replace a breeder in a nearby territory, take over part of their parent’s territory, inherit breeding status after the death of a parent, or establish a new territory between existing territories.
Scrub-Jays are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC). This species was listed as threatened by the state since 1975 and by the FWC since 1987. In spite of protection by the Endangered Species Act, the greatest decline of this species has occurred during the last 20-25 years with an estimated 25 to 50 per cent reduction in Jay numbers. Loss of habitat due to development has led to increased failed nesting attempts. Other threats come from predation from natural predators such as bobcats, owls, raptors, snakes, blue jays and crows. Domestic cats pose a serious threat in suburban areas, as well as poisoning and collisions with cars.
You can help by:
- Supporting establishment of regional and local scrub-Jay preserves. Protection of scrub-jay populations on managed tracts of optimal habitat is the best means of protecting the species.
- Providing habitat for scrub-jay. Plant, protect and cultivate patches of shrubby scrub live oak, Chapman’s oak, myrtle oak, and scrub oak on your property. Maintain all of your landscaping at a maximum of 10 feet in height if you live on or near scrub-jay habitat.
- Protecting scrub-jays from your pets. Encourage passage and strict enforcement of leash laws for dogs and cats in your community. Protect areas being used by nesting scrub-jays from domestic animals, especially cats.
- Restricting use of pesticides. Scrub-Jays feed on insects usually considered pests around golf courses and homes. Pesticides may limit or contaminate food used by the jays. Reduce use of pesticides if possible; if you must use them, please do so with caution.
- Report malicious destruction or harassment of scrub-jays or their nests to 888-404-FWCC (3922).