Florida Scrub Jay Habitat
The scrub jay is one of Florida's
friendliest songbirds, as well as one of its most threatened.
Although scrub jays thrive in the western U.S. and Mexico, east
of the Mississippi they exist only in Florida.
At one time, the range of the
Florida scrub jay extended over 7,000-square
miles. But now so much of its habitat has been transformed
for agricultural and urban use that the scrub jay population has dwindled
For example, the healthy population
of birds that once ranged all along the Atlantic coast has been fragmented
into isolated communities. In 1987, the situation was serious
enough that the Florida scrub jay was classified as a threatened species.
As their name implies, scrub
jays live in a highly specialized territory, one where
tall trees provide canopy cover over no more than 20 percent of an area.
In ideal scrub
jay habitat, oaks between three and eight feet tall
blanket between 50 to 90 percent of an area, while sparse vegetation
no higher than six inches (or perhaps only bare ground) covers the remaining
Fire is essential
for maintaining scrub jay habitat. An area needs to be burned every
5 to 20 years in order to keep scrub vegetation at the proper
As scrub jay habitat becomes
more scarce, the birds are seemingly able to adapt,
and to live indefinitely in recreational and residential regions as
long as some scrub, open or green areas exist nearby.
Scrub Jay Characteristics
The Florida scrub looks similar
to the far more common blue jay. Both are
the same size, about 12 inches in length, but the scrub jay is
paler in color and lacks a crest. The scrub jay also lacks
the white wing spots and white tail feather tips typical of the blue
Instead, the scrub jay wears
a collar of blue feathers that separates its white
throat from its gray underparts, and it has a white line
over the eye that blends into a whitish forehead. The white forehead
and eyebrows distinguish the Florida from those of western states.
birds, scrub jays sometimes become very tame and some like to be hand-fed
peanuts. At the golf courses where families of the
birds reside, scrub jays will sometimes boldly perch on a person's shoulder
or head in hopes of a handout.
It's not uncommon for entire neighborhoods to adopt families of
friendly scrub jays, a concern of some conservationists who feel the
birds should not be fed by humans. A feeding ban of
any sort is not likely to work, since both scrub jays and people like
interacting with each other.
Although scrub jays will happily
take peanuts from people, their normal diet is quite
varied. It includes both plants and animals. Acorns,
the main staple during fall and winter, are consumed year-round.
In spring and summer,
insects become the main food source, supplemented by frogs,
mice, toads, lizards, snakes and birds' eggs. Corn, sunflower seeds,
saw palmetto drupes and greenbrier berries are also eaten when available.
The family life of scrub jays
is unusually complex. A family, which consists of a breeding pair and
some of their offspring, establishes its own territory and strongly
protects it from other scrub jays. A family's territory may average
between five and 50 acres, though 25 acres is most common.
The breeding pair, which mate
for life, are usually around three or four years of age. Their mating
season is short, from early March to late May and sometimes into June.
A nest is built between three
and 10 feet above ground in one of the scrub oaks. Nests, made of twigs
and lined with finer material, are used only once. The average clutch
is three greenish, brown-spotted eggs which hatch after about 17 days.
Seventeen is also the average
number of days that it takes for the nestlings to fledge from the time
they hatch. The juveniles are distinctive, with a dusky brown head and
neck that lasts until their first molt, following the first summer.
Unlike any of Florida's other
songbirds, both non-nesting females but particularly males remain part
of the family for several years. These hangers-on serve as valuable
helpers by defending the family territory and feeding the nestlings
However, helpers do not assist
in nest building or incubating. Not surprisingly, studies have shown
that breeding pairs with helpers raise their young more successfully
than do birds without helpers.
To Where To See Florida
Florida Animals & Wildlife Home
To Florida Birding Home