April 2022 Birds Need Plants Photo Contest

A Mouthful to Cache

Florida Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma coerulescens

A Mouthful to Cache Florida Scrub-Jay at the Wabasso Scrub Conservation Area, 01/09/16 © Ken Janes

by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D.

Did you know that our Florida Scrub-Jay is so very smart? In the fall when oaks produce acorns, one Jay caches (hides and stores) over 8000 acorns in thousands of different places in the sand and can remember each place!  If they discover another Jay, predator, or animal watching who might steal their horde, or close to being discovered, they will move their cache to another location.  When in the spring when oaks are not producing acorns, the Jays will then go to the locations, retrieve, and eat. Scrub-Jays have thrived in Florida for at least 2 million years when Florida was isolated as an island. 

Unlike many other birds, the Scrub-Jay is limited to living in Oak Scrub habitat on high ground with good drainage and sandy soils that depends upon periodic burning as Scrub-Jays need open sandy habitat so they can see any predators and find their own prey (insects, mice, small birds, snakes and lizards).  Humans also like to build on well-drained high ground for their roads, railroads, homes, and businesses.  Thus, the Scrub-Jay habitat once extensive with thriving Scrub-Jays is now fragmented.  Because humans have moved near Scrub-Jay habitats, towns suppress the natural fires and thus the Florida oak scrub forests grow tall, reducing the natural habitat for Scrub-Jays.  Only one family can survive on a smaller piece of land.  This is one reason why it is urgent to save dwindling natural habitats.

Notice the leg-bands. Bird researchers use different colors to denote the location where the birds were caught and banded. Research demonstrates that when the young mature, they do move to new territories which is essential for the species biogenetic diversity and survivability. 

Being smart, Scrub-Jays are very curious and have learned begging pays, and thus come readily to humans.  As a Federally threatened species, it is illegal to feed scrub jays, even with acorns to draw them close. If fed, they misinterpret there is enough food to feed their babies, so will breed earlier. However, the juicy caterpillars that parents feed them only emerge later. Thus, the hatchlings starve. Humans, please STOP feeding any Scrub-Jay as feeding leads to Scrub-Jay juvenile mortality.

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