- Federal Status: Threatened
- FL Status: Federally-designated Threatened
- FNAI Ranks: G3/S3 (Rare)
- IUCN Status: VU (Vulnerable)
The Florida scrub-jay is a blue and gray bird about the size of a blue jay. Scrub-jays have blue wings, head, and tail, and gray back and underparts, and a whitish forehead and neck. Unlike blue jays, this species does not have black markings or a crest.
The diet of the Florida scrub-jay primarily consists of insects, frogs, toads, lizards, mice, bird eggs, and acorns.
Florida scrub-jays live in family groups that consist of a breeding pair and young helpers, which are usually the offspring of the pair. Scrub-jays begin breeding around two to three years of age and will continue breeding throughout their lifetime. Scrub-jays are cooperative breeders, as offspring of the breeding pair may stay as helpers for one or more years to help raise other young and defend the territory. Scrub-jays breed from March to June and nests are built from twigs and palmetto fibers 3 to 10 feet (0.9 – 3 meters) off of the ground in shrubby oaks. Scrub-jays are non-migratory and typically defend the same nesting territory year after year. Florida scrub-jays usually have one brood (the young hatched from a single clutch) per year, but will renest if failure occurs early in the season. The average clutch size for the scrub-jay is two to five eggs per nesting. Eggs are incubated for 18 days and the juveniles fledge at about 18 days after hatching (range 12 -25 days; Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996). Immature scrub-jays usually remain in their natal territory as helpers for the first year.
The Florida scrub-jay is the only species of bird that is endemic to Florida. Scrub-jays inhabit sand pine and xeric oak scrub, and scrubby flatwoods, which occur in some of the highest and driest areas of Florida – ancient sandy ridges that run down the middle of the state, old sand dunes along the coasts, and sandy deposits along rivers in the interior of the state. Scrub-jays do best in areas that contain large quantities of oak shrubs that average 3.28-6.56 feet (1-2 meters).
The primary threats to the Florida scrub-jay are habitat destruction, fragmentation, and degradation from development and agriculture. Much of the scrub habitat has been altered for agricultural lands and development. Habitat fragmentation is steadily increasing, and in turn, causes populations to become smaller and more isolated. As fragmentation continues, fewer scrub-jays are able to travel between the patches of suitable habitat. Small populations are at risk of disappearing because of a lack of connectivity. Fire suppression degrades the scrub habitat, as the habitat becomes too dense and tall to support the species. The scrub-jay population has declined 90% in the past century due to these threats (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001). Vehicle strikes are also a threat to the population (Johnson et al. 2009).
Conservation and Management
The Florida scrub-jay is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is also protected as a Threatened species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule. Prescribed burning is an essential element to conserving the Florida scrub-jay.
Florida Natural Areas Inventory. 2001. Field guide to the rare animals of Florida. https://www.fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Aphelocoma_coerulescens.pdf
Johnson, S. A., K. E. Miller, and T. Blunden. 2009, June. The Florida Scrub-Jay: A Species in Peril. Retrieved May 11, 2011, from University of Florida IFAS Extension: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw306
Woolfenden, G.E. and J.W. Fitzpatrick. 1996. Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens). Species account, version 2.0 in A.F. Poole and F.B. Gill, editors. The birds of North American. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.228 Accessed 11 November 2019.