Author Archives: Dee Staley

About Dee Staley

Scrub-Jay Wrangler

The Disappearing Native Bird

“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.

Greg Brown, Ranger at the Savannas Preserve State Park, calling the Jays.

Greg Brown, Ranger at the Savannas Preserve State Park, calling the Jays.

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.

Chris  Vandello, Biologist at the Savannas Preserve State Park, identifying the Jays.

Chris Vandello, Biologist at the Savannas Preserve State Park, identifying the Jays.

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.

Adult Scrub-jay with purple over red and red over silver bands.

Adult Scrub-jay with purple over red and a silver band. One band is missing.

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.

Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Florida Scrub-Jay, Scrub-jay


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The Florida Scrub-Jay, A True-Blue Native

Florida Scrub-Jay

Aphelocoma coerulescens


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.

Photo by Dee

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.

Peanuts are only used for training purposes (Photo by Dee)

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).


Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Florida Scrub-Jay, Scrub-jay


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