August 2012 Bird Photo of the Month

On the lookout © Lynn Walsh
Florida Scrub-Jay sentinel

Florida Scrub-jays are the only Florida endemic bird species–found nowhere else in the world. These differ from Western Scrub-jays by their behaviors and smaller size. Scientists have found specimens in Alachua County dating to early Pleistocene, two million years ago, long before humans arrived. The photograph taken by Lynn Walsh with a Canon Powershot reveals this particular Florida Scrub-jay in close detail as delicate and vulnerable. Fitting, as the US Fish and Wildlife Service classifies Florida Scrub-jays as a threatened species. Humans have converted high and dry scrub-oak habitat to highways, groves, ranches, subdivisions and malls and suppressed natural fires. Thus, humans have been responsible for 90% Scrub-jay population loss.

Their scrub habitat must be burned for two reasons. One, Scrub-jays need open space so the designated family sentinel can look out for predators (snakes, hawks, house cats). Two, open sand is primarily where each Scrub-jay caches up to 8,000 acorns per year for winter months! Yes, they can find most of them again as jays have excellent memories. In fact, they spend time digging them up and burying them again. Is that to remember locations, check acorn quality, or hide them from fellow jays? Forgotten acorns become the scrub oaks of tomorrow.

Unique even compared to Western Scrub-jays, our truly native Floridians have traditional family values: monogamous, life partners, small family groups, no incest, homesteading in specific natural areas. They do not leave central Florida. Young usually stay several years as helpers to the parents: defending the family’s territorial rights, feeding fledglings and watching for and mobbing predators. After 2-3 years, young birds leave to find mates from other family groups and establish their own family territory. Their biggest challenge is finding a new, unoccupied territory when their scrub habitat is rapidly disappearing.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon

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