Monday, January 30, 2017

Florida Scrub Jays

A target bird for anyone birder who comes to Central Florida is the Florida Scrub Jay. It is endemic to Florida, and lives only in areas of short scrubby oaks growing on sandy soil. This habitat occurs mostly as isolated pockets, surrounded by housing developments. The jays rarely wander away from their own little patch of scrub, making them very sedentary. The scrub must be kept from growing too large by periodic fires, preventing oak trees from shading out everything else. In the protected areas kept for the jays man-controlled fires keep the scrub low.
They eat mostly acorns and insects, along with spiders and snails. They will also eat berries, seeds and small reptiles, amphibians, rodents and the young of smaller birds. The scub oak provides the acorns. They will forage on the ground and in trees, usually in flocks. They will bury the acorns, coming back for them later.
Scrub Jays are known as cooperative breeders, meaning their young stay around to help raise chicks in the next year. These "helpers" assist in defending the family's territory and feeding the young. They build nests of twigs, grass and moss in a well-built thick-walled cup.
In the early 1990's, there were only about 4,000 Scrub Jays, and they were put on the endangered species list.
On one trip, the leaders pished and called for quite a while before one jay came to see what was going on. Dick and I went to Cruikshank Sanctuary which was established with Brevard County in 1981. A family of 8-10 jays were delighted to see us, pecking on our heads for handouts, which we did not give them. It was great fun!

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