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The trails offer pleasant exploration through several of the dominant plant communities. Florida scrub-jay and gopher tortoise are common in the oak scrub. Seasonal wetlands host wading birds and provide critical breeding habitat for gopher frogs, one of the many upland species found in gopher tortoise burrows. Listen for Bachman’s sparrows in the pine flatwoods and watch for the occasional deer, turkey, and fox squirrel. Open areas, such as former pastures, may host southeastern American kestrels, northern harriers (winter) and other raptors. Diverse wildflowers attract numerous butterfly species.           

Wildlife Spotlight: Florida Scrub Jay

Distant cousin to the blue jay, the Florida scrub-jay is the only bird species unique to Florida and is found only in very specific scrub oak habitat. Scrub-jays are about 11 inches long and mostly blue, with pale gray on the back and belly. The plumage of males and females does not differ, but only the female incubates eggs and utters the “hic-cup” call.

Scrub jays are found only in the relict patches of oak scrub, where four low-growing oak species provide acorns, the birds’ most important winter food. From August to November, each bird buries (caches) several thousand acorns just beneath the sand and retrieves them when other foods are scarce. Scrub-jays also eat a variety of insects and other small animals.

Check out other species recorded from Moody Branch WEA, or add observations of your own, by visiting the Moody Branch WEA Nature Trackers project.

Scrub-jays form family groups of 2 to 8 birds that include some young from previous breeding seasons. Family groups defend a specific territory and each bird takes a turn as sentry, sitting atop an exposed perch to watch for predators or intruders. Nesting occurs from March through June. Scrub-jays build their nests about a yard off the ground in shrubs, mostly low-growing oak species, and construct a platform of twigs lined with palmetto or cabbage palm fibers.

Since the early 1900s, the number of Florida scrub-jays has declined by as much as 90%, primarily due to habitat loss from residential development, citrus production and the exclusion of periodic fires necessary to maintain the oak scrub plant community in the low, open conditions favored by the birds and other scrub species. As a result, the Florida scrub-jay is listed as Threatened. Biologists are trying to help scrub-jays by restoring and maintaining quality habitat using prescribed fire and other management methods. Learn more about these birds and what you can do to help.

 



FWC Facts:
The $2.7 billion that people spend to view wildlife in Florida is more than double the value of the state’s annual orange harvest.

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