“The Florida Scrub-jay is one of North America’s most endangered birds” – that’s the opening line of the Jay Watch Volunteer Training Manual. Every year in the middle of June volunteers monitor jay populations at more than 40 conservation sites from northern Volucia County to Palm Beach County in the southeast and Sarasota County in the southwest. In the year 1992 there were 11,000 individual Jays counted and by 2011 only 6,500 were found. What is most disturbing is that there was a 26% decline on protected lands.
At a yearly Jay Watch meeting volunteers are taught monitoring procedures and are encouraged to become familiar with particular sites. Since Scrub-jays are territorial, each monitoring site is visited 3 times over a one month period, at varied times of the morning. This schedule increases the likelihood that all birds will be counted. A CD of Jay scolding calls is played in 4 directions at least 3 times in hopes of bringing the Jays close enough to identify individual birds.
By July, fledglings will still have their brown heads and previously banded adult birds will have rings of color on their legs. The different colors allow volunteers to ID specific birds and follow them if they move to other territories. Many Jays stay in their home territory for several years and help raise the next year’s babies as well as protect the borders from Jays trying to move in. Unbanded adult birds are also noted and will eventually receive special training to ready them for the bander.
When volunteers play the scolding call, the Jays come quickly, ready to defend the borders from interlopers. Volunteers document flight directions as well as colored leg bands. These bands fade or are lost over time and become difficult to read correctly. Several people working together can help to verify the colors.
Each banded bird carries 2 colored bands on their right leg as well as a uniquely numbered aluminum US Fish and Wildlife band on the left. A colored band is also placed on the left leg for a total of 4 bands.
All Scrub-jays do not live in state parks. There are many hanging on in small scrub areas where development has encroached on their territory. You can help by:
- Reporting any Jays found outside of a park. Call the park or preserve closest to you. It is also helpful to report any bands on their legs.
- By securing your cats on your own property. Many fledglings are killed by cats allowed to roam.
- Educating your friends and family about the plight of Florida’s Disappearing Native Bird. Maybe, just maybe we can stabilize the numbers that remain.