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FLORIDA SCRUB JAY (Aphelocoma coerulescens coerulescens)

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Florida scrub-jay picture
Family: Corvidae

Order: Passeriformes

STATUS: Threatened

DESCRIPTION: The Florida scrub jay (approximately 30 centimeters long) is a crestless member of the jay family. Its streaked blue necklace, white throat, buff-colored back, and solid blue wings and tail distinguish it from the more common blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) which has white-tipped wing and tail feathers. Male and female scrub jays are identical in size and plumage. Young jays possess a light brown plumage on the head and back.

HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION: Conspecific scrub jay subspecies range over much of the western United States and Mexico, but the morphologically and behaviorally unique Florida scrub jay is restricted to scattered and often small and isolated patches of xeric oak scrub in peninsular Florida. They reside permanently in xeric oak scrub, that has low, dense, evergreen oak thickets for nesting, interspersed with large, adjacent open areas for feeding. Although a stable population of scrub jays exists in the western United States, the eastern population of this jay is precariously small (approximately 7,000). Over half of the remaining jays in the state occur on and around two large, federally owned tracts of land: Ocala National Forest and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Based on current management practices in these two tracts and their effects on Florida scrub jays, it is doubtful that the number of jays on these two federal properties will remain stable or increase; declines are likely. Extant but fragmented habitat on the Lake Wales Ridge in Highlands and Polk counties supports the third largest concentration of jays. Beyond these three population centers, the Florida scrub jay occurs in widely scattered populations inhabiting patches of scrub along the interior and coastal sand ridges of the Florida peninsula.

LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Florida scrub jays are extremely specific sedentary, they are permanently monogamous, and defend a permanent territory. Nests, normally constructed of twigs are usually located in myrtle oaks, wax myrtles, or Chapman's oaks; these nests are commonly about 1 to 4 meters above the ground, and usually about 1 meter from the edge of an open, brush-free feeding area. Nesting occurs from early March through June. Pairs are single brooded, but may nest as many as 3 or 4 times per year in order to bring one clutch (3 to 5 eggs) successfully to the age of fledging. Incubation spans 17 days, with the young hatching just after the spring leaf fall (a time when blooming oaks attract hosts of small insects that make up the diet of the young jays). Juvenile jays remain in the immediate territory of the nest as "helpers" for at least 1 year after hatching; they aid the adults in the defense of the nest and territory, and in the feeding of the pair's brood. Scrub jays feed on a wide variety of terrestrial invertebrates, and a few small vertebrates such as frogs and lizards. Insects, especially orthopterans, form the bulk of this diet. Acorns are an important food source in late summer, and the jays commonly cache them in the sand to be retrieved and eaten throughout the rest of the year. A few other plant foods such as palmetto and greenbrier berries are taken but seem unimportant to the existence of the bird.

BASIS OF STATUS CLASSIFICATION: The decline of the Florida scrub jay throughout its present and former range, estimated at 7000 square miles, is attributed almost entirely to the loss of xeric oak scrub to agriculture, silviculture, and urban development. Some of the small, isolated populations have been eliminated, and may pose a serious threat to future Florida scrub jay populations. In response to these losses and continued threats (i.e., fire-suppression, mechanical and chemical treatment of vegetation, altered hydrology, etc.) to their population, the Florida scrub jay has been classified as "threatened" by the state in 1975 and federal government in 1987.

HABITAT GUIDELINES: Habitat should be preserved for Florida scrub jays if Florida scrub jays (1) exist on-site, or (2) do not exist on-site but are off-site within 5 miles of optimal habitat on-site that is at least 10 acres in size and less than 25% of all developable land on site. Optimal on-site habitat includes xeric oak scrub, scrubby flatwoods, or any upland community in which the percent cover of the substrate by scrub oak species is 15% or more. Habitat preservation for scrub jays should follow the guidelines outlined in Ecology and Development-related Habitat Requirements of the Florida Scrub Jay (1991).

One hundred acres of optimal scrub habitat will support 3 to 4 Florida scrub jay group territories and 2.5 to 3.5 territories if "sparse". Territory size may range in size from 10 to 45 acres. Off-site preservation would be appropriate when the on-site acreage of suitable habitat is less than 10 acres.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Of primary importance to the survival of the species is to minimize further decline of the remaining habitat. The only protective measures employed today is afforded by protection of the species. Therefore, acquisition and protection of scrub jay habitat is essential. Maintenance of open, scrub areas by controlled burning may also prove to be a feasible tool.

The Florida scrub jay an excellent research organism for ecological and behavioral studies and an outstanding example for conservation, because where protected it is a wild animal the public easily can observe and appreciate.

REFERENCES:
Cox, J.A. 1987. Status and distribution of the Florida scrub jay. Florida Ornithological Society Publication No. 3. 110pp.

Fitzpatrick, J.W., G.E. Woolfenden, M.T. Kopeny. 1991. Ecology

and development-related habitat requirements of the Florida scrub jay (Aphelocoma

coerulescens coerulescens). Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. Nongame Wildlife Program Technical Report No. 8. Tallahassee, FL. 49 pp.

Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. 1991. The Florida scrub jay. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission - Office of Environmental Services and Office of Informational Services, Gainesville, FL. Brochure.

Woolfenden, G.E. and J.W. Fitzpatrick. 1984. The Florida scrub jay: demography of a cooperative-breeding bird. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 406pp.

Content updated Date February 24, 2005