Thursday, April 2, 2009

Messing around with Paradise: Florida scrub jay

Florida scrub jays
Photos by Mike M.
Indrio Savannahs Natural Area, St. Lucie County



Blue and Friendly

Florida scrub jay A cousin of the scrub jays common in the western United States and Mexico, the Florida scrub jay is found only in the Sunshine State. These birds are about a foot long from head to tail and mostly blue, lik e blue jays. They have a light gray forehead and white throat. Their crestless head is blue, and so are their wings and long, loose, tail feathers. Their beak and legs are black, and their back and leg feathers are gray. Young ones, less than 6 months old, have a brownish head and neck.

Florida scrub jays have a varied diet. Acorns are their favorite -- eaten all year long, especially during winter when insects, their next favorite meal, are scarce. They gather and bury thousands of acorns they can feed on any time. They also prey on spiders and lizards, and young frogs, snakes and mice. But without live food, they are content pecking on berries, sunflower seeds, corn and peanuts. And as one Florida scrub jay demonstrated by landing on the little boy's head, these jays are known to be friendly enough to eat nuts and seeds from the palm of a bird lover's hand.

A Threatened Bird in a Threatened Ecosystem

As the name implies, the Florida scrub jay thrives in a scrub, which is an extremely dry habitat. Their ideal environment is a relatively open flatwoods of oak or sand pine scrub with trees less than 10 feet tall, wide apart and providing minimal canopy cover. Most of this scrub is bare ground having a few plants that are less than half a foot tall. Florida scrub jays don't do well in damp and dark forests, so the dry, sandy, open locations prevalent along the Florida peninsula are what they call home.

Unfortunately, scrub areas are also the most prone to human habitation. Relatively easy to clear and build structures on, some scrub habitats that were once Florida scrub jay territory have been converted to residential and commercial areas.

What makes scrub areas more appealing to development is they are also ideal for grazing cattle and growing oranges. Environmental experts have actually reported that the Florida scrub is one of the most endangered ecosystems in all of North America.

As most of the scrub habitats are urbanized, considerably destroying and fragmenting the Florida scrub jay habitat, other factors contribute to the demise of the threatened species. Pesticides, busy roads and house pets become serious threats to the jays' reproduction and survival. The suppression of natural fires, causing scrub vegetation to grow too dense for the scrub jay, also adds to their displacement.

More can be found here.

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