Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Florida Scrub Jay - A bird needs fire to survive!

One main goal of my recent trip down to Florida is to see this unique species, Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens).  Endemic to Florida,  Florida Scrub-Jays (FLSJ) rely on oak scrub habitat to breed and feed. According to my friend, Tom Dunkerton, who worked for Florida Scrub Jay Project on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for the past 4 years, these birds seldom fly more than 1 mile away where they are born to look for food. They are highly territorial and young birds will stay with the parents to raise offspring. It averages about 11 inches in length and weights about 3 oz (or 86 grams) and forage mainly on acorns and small worms. They will gather acorns in fall and bury them under the sandy soil to consume during winter.

Juvenile Florida Scrub-Jay, Merritt Island NWR, Florida 
Click image to enlarge

One very interesting fact of these scrub jays is that they are highly intelligent and curious and like to explore new things. They are very submissive. Their nature of tameness makes them easily come to human. When I met Tom at breakfast, he told me "Linda, have you seen Florida Scrub-jay before?" I said "never, but this is another important species I am hoping to see it" ..With a great smile and confidence in his eyes, Tom said  "If we are lucky today we might get this bird come to your shoulder, how does that sound?"...Wow! I didn't know what to expect except having a great doubt in what Tom just told me and wonder "Would a wild bird really come to a human?" At that very moment, the theme of Snow White with all her wild animals and birds came to my mind. I was so excited and my heart was racing fast and could not wait to find these birds.

Tom took this picture of this scrub-jay and me :) Thanks my friend!
Click image to enlarge

Tom was so kind and offered us to pop in his van so he can take us to the roads and places where he thinks we have the best chance to see most of birds. As we entering one of the scrub jay nesting sites off Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge there was no one bird around in this quiet morning. I wasn't that disappointed and thought let me just start setting up my camera because you would never know what might show up the next. Tom used his magic voice and started calling his beloved scrub jays. Within few minutes, not only one, but three scrub jays flew in and perched on near by trees. They started hopping from trees to trees and even came down to the ground. I snapped few shots and complained to Tom that all shots were not very satisfactory. Tom told me to take my time and these birds will hang around for a while without knowing that the real show just about to begin! My friend and I tried to be very quiet as all birders know that larger birds are very skittish and we did not want them to get scared away. Scrub-jays looked at us tentatively and I really believed they knew we were no harm to them. I even whispered and told them to come to my shoulders. Suddenly, this juvenile hopped onto my friend's head and started poking his hat. OMG! I could not believe this and my friend did not mind at all. Tom told my friend to slowly turn around so I can photograph this magical moment! After taking numerous shots and videos, I handed in my camera to Tom so I would have a free hand to get acquainted to these friendly birds. Tom took many beautiful shots of scrub-jay and me. This young bird poked my hand here and there. When I brought him closer to my eye level, I telepathized this jay and then amazingly, he stopped poking!

Remarkably tamed :)

One thing we need to be aware is that for the jays fed by human, they intend to nest early than the ones feed in the wild. The problem is that young birds rely on worms and caterpillars, fledglings might not be able to find enough food in the early spring. Young birds, unavoidably,  will suffer from starvation. Florida Scrub-jays are highly endangered due to human's invasion to scrub land. According to a 2011 wildlife survey, FLSJ's population has reduced to 50% since 1980. Animals and plants that live in scrub habitats are evolved to adapt this harsh, yet poorly nourished land. These rare species are endemic (meaning prevalent in a particular locality) and often time, they are the ecosystem specialists but threatened due to the loss of habitats.

I really love Tom's car tag :)
Currently, about 2/3 of scrub lands in Florida has disappeared. Man can live anywhere but these precious scrub-jays can only survive at regularly fire swept scrub lands. While advancing our own life, we must respect other wildlife's right of living. By lodging instead of purchasing a beach front condo, avoiding commercially made herbicide, or planting one more tree, your neighbors might not appreciate you, but birds will :) -- Happy Birding! -- Linda

Some useful information about Florida Scrub-jay:
1. Florida Scrub-jay Translocation Guidelines 
2. Audubon Florida 
3. U.S Fish and Wildlife Service - Habitat Conservation Plan Incidental Take Permit
4. Biology Information on Florida Scrub-Jay
5. AllAboutBird.org - hear their calls


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  1. Looks like you had a great time with the Scrub-jay,great to see this bird in such detail and colour,thanks for sharing the images for l have never seen this species before..
    Greg Sujecki

  2. Thanks Greg! Florida Scrub-Jay is only found in central Florida's scrub habitat and you can not find them else where in the world.

  3. I love your article Linda ! Without it i would have forgotten some of the cool things Tom said. What a great moment ! And you took a very good picture of the juvy ! :)

  4. Thanks Sylvain. We all had a great time visiting Tom and Merritt Island!


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