Tag Archives: Florida Scrub-Jay

Club Scrub-Jay

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Cool lake on a hot day at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, last Sunday, when I went on a solo trek to find scrub jays.

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I walked around this lake. It smelled a bit like a northern freshwater lake – cool, fresh, watery and alive!

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This narrow trail was shared by mountain bikers. Best to choose the trails marked for foot traffic only, I learned.

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Jonathan Dickinson preserves a large area of Florida scrub habitat.

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Florida sand pine scrub is an endangered subtropical forest ecoregion found throughout Florida in the United States.[4] It is found on coastal and inland sand ridges and is characterized by an evergreen xeromorphic plant community dominated by shrubs and dwarf oaks. Because the low-nutrient sandy soils do not retain moisture, the ecosystem is effectively an arid one. Wildfires infrequently occur in the Florida scrub. Most of the annual rainfall (about 135 cm or 53 in) falls in summer. It is endangered by residential, commercial and agricultural development.

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Can you see the mountain biker in the above two photos? There is an active club at the park, Club Scrub.

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But count me as a member of Club Scrub-Jay! (They should start one, right?) Here’s a Florida Master naturalist who is a big fan…

Why the Scrub-Jay should be Florida’s state bird, with Eva Ries

It has a beautiful dusty-gray breast, it has a gray collar around the back, it’s blue up top with a gray eyebrow, and it has the most unusual call. When they call to their compatriots, they make a rrih! rrih! rrih-rrih-rrih!

Video of Florida Scrub-Jay “happy song” while perched on a man’s hat! LINK

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They are not hard to find, when you are in their habitat. They are curious and the landscape is open.

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Audubon…

This bird is noteworthy on several counts. It lives nowhere in the world except Florida, it has a complicated social system, it has been the subject of very detailed field studies, and it is threatened by loss of habitat. Formerly considered just a race of the scrub-jays found in the west, it is now classified as a full species.

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Breeds in cooperative flocks. Each nesting territory is occupied by an adult pair and often by one to six “helpers,” usually the pair’s offspring from previous years. These additional birds assist in defending the territory and feeding the young. Studies have shown that a pair with “helpers” is likely to raise more young than a pair without. Nest site is in tree or shrub, usually an oak, with sand live oak strongly favored.

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I saw a total of three scrub-jays but just focused on getting decent shots of this one, close by and in good light.

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Range map.

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A bit jay-like appearance but without a crest. Here is the familiar and widespread (east of the Rocky Mountains) Blue Jay for comparison, from a little later that morning in the park…

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Blue Jays’ behavioral attitude seems a bit fussier and sassier, like they enjoy complaining and picking fights. I watched them a lot in New Hampshire, especially at my bird feeders.

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From a Feb 5, 2015 blog post: Birds are avian dinosaurs 

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The Scrub-Jay seems a bit more peaceful, even elegant, especially for a corvid. Although maybe I need to spend more time observing them.

Saving Florida’s Friendliest Native Bird Matters

For the past 2 million years, Florida has been home to a superlative bird found nowhere else on earth. These birds are remarkably smart, with extraordinary memory and perhaps even the ability to plan ahead. Highly social yet quarrelsome, they’re like the stars of an avian soap opera. And they’re as brash and curious as precocious kids. Many a jubilant birdwatcher has turned to find one mischievously perched upon their shoulder.

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Park sign.

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I also got close to a Yellow-rumped Warbler in a thicket, a winter visitor to Florida.

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The Yellow-rumped Warbler is the only warbler able to digest the waxes found in bayberries and wax myrtles. Its ability to use these fruits allows it to winter farther north than other warblers, sometimes as far north as Newfoundland.

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Yellow-rumped Warblers are perhaps the most versatile foragers of all warblers. They’re the warbler you’re most likely to see fluttering out from a tree to catch a flying insect, and they’re also quick to switch over to eating berries in fall. Other places Yellow-rumped Warblers have been spotted foraging include picking at insects on washed-up seaweed at the beach, skimming insects from the surface of rivers and the ocean, picking them out of spiderwebs, and grabbing them off piles of manure.

I bought an annual pass to Florida State Parks and I will be heading back to Jonathan Dickinson again soon!

Florida Scrub-Jays at last

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Ta da! Camera in one hand and Florida Scrub-Jay in the other.

But let me start at the beginning…

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Indrio Savannahs is a 297-acre preserve with 3 miles of trails just off Route 1 in St. Lucie County north of the city of Fort Pierce, Florida. I took a walk there a couple of mornings ago.

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A pretty 35-acre lake is right near the parking area. Fishing is allowed but catch-and-release only, said the sign.

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First bird was a Northern Mockingbird on the trail ahead of me, doing a wing display dance… maybe to flush tasty insects from their hiding places?

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I also spotted a Brown Thrasher, a new bird for me!

To find Brown Thrashers, keep your eyes and ears alert around tangled thickets, hedgerows or forest edges in central and eastern North America. Brown Thrashers are secretive, and hard to spot in their favorite spots under dense vegetation, but they can make a lot of noise as they rummage through the leaf litter.

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Thanks for popping out into the open, Brown Thrasher.

They are in the Mimidae family, along with Northern Mockingbirds and Gray Catbirds.

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Brown Thrashers spend most of their time near or on the ground, walking, running, or hopping. When disturbed at the nest, they drop to the ground and dart into dense cover. They feed by sweeping their long bills through leaf litter to uncover insects and other invertebrates. They are slow, short-distance fliers with a distinctive jerky, fluttering flight style.

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Next along the trail, the bird I was looking for!

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A Florida Scrub-Jay (juveniles have brown heads) flew onto a fence post and posed.

The round-headed, blue and gray Florida Scrub-Jay is the only bird species that lives exclusively in Florida, where it occurs in patches of low-growing scrub oak in sandy soils. It perches tall with its long tail hanging down or boldly hops on the ground burying acorns.

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I’ve been keeping an eye out for Scrub-Jays and I specifically chose Indrio Savannahs because I heard and read there were some families living there.

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This social bird forms extended family groups: the young from previous years help their parents at subsequent nests until they can get a territory of their own. Extensive development and habitat fragmentation in Florida threaten this bird’s already small population, placing it on the federal endangered species list.

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Poof!

I’d guess this is a juvenile starting to molt into adult plumage.

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You can see new little pin feathers sprouting on its head.

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It flew to the grassy path and poked around.

Florida Scrub-Jays hop along the ground between shrubs looking for insects, acorns, berries, and small vertebrates such as snakes, mice, and lizards. Florida Scrub-Jays also eat peanuts provided by people. They eat small insects and berries whole, but carry larger prey in their bill to a perch where they proceed to pick it apart.

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They hold acorns in their feet, hammering them apart with their chisel-like bill. When they’ve had their fill of acorns, they hammer them into the sandy soil or stuff them into palm fronds or moss to eat later in the year. They often place a leaf or twig over the area, perhaps to help them remember where they buried it. Throughout the year, they also dig up and recache the acorns perhaps to check on the condition of the acorn or to help them remember the location. A single Florida Scrub-Jay may cache between 6,500 and 8,000 acorns each fall.

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Florida Scrub-Jays are restricted to low-growing (less than 6.5 feet tall) oak scrub and scrubby flatwoods found in sand ridges only in Florida. Within these patches of oak scrub, they frequent relatively open areas and bare sandy patches. Species within this community include myrtle oak, Archbold oak, sand live oak, Chapman oak, runner oak, rusty lyonia, Florida rosemary, and at least 18 endangered or threatened plants. When the oak scrub becomes too dense or tall as a result of fire suppression, Florida Scrub-Jays no longer use the area.

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Nearby, a Red-bellied Woodpecker flew into view.

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I came to a bridge with a sign about the jays.

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And suddenly they materialized.

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I would have been happy to get one photo of one jay.

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The Red-bellied flew onto the scene too. I’m guessing someone has fed these birds at this spot.

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Couple of juveniles with their brown heads in the front. Maybe adults in the background? Looking a little scruffy from the molt?

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This was just incredible and I wished I had someone with me to enjoy the amazing scene. But I knew I got some photos I could share later.

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Young birds stay with their parents until they can obtain a territory of their own. Until then, they help their parents feed their siblings, keep watch for predators, and defend the territory year-round. These family groups are generally composed of adults and up to 6 offspring. Within each family group one individual acts as a sentinel, looking out for predators.

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I guess they don’t consider humans predators, which maybe is unfortunate.

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They are really different looking if you are used to looking at Blue Jays.

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According to Florida Fish & Wildlife…

The Florida scrub-jay is a blue and gray bird that reaches lengths of 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) with a wing span of 13.5 inches (34.3 centimeters) (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2011).  A blue-colored necklace surrounds their neck, separating their whiter throat from their grayish breast.  Florida scrub-jays also have a gray back and underparts, along with a blue head, tail, and wings.

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On a whim, I put out my hand. Almost immediately this bird flew onto my fingers and perched, looking for a handout I’ll bet!

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Sorry, no food. Do not feed the Scrub-Jays, I know that’s the rule.

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The touch of those lightweight picky little bird feet will stick with me as a special moment.

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Yeah, Florida Scrub-Jay!

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I continued my morning bird-and-camera walk along some trails and over little bridges in the preserve.

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Very quiet, overcast morning, not too hot for summer and without many bugs at all.

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A Mourning Dove perched near the trail.

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Tiny flower on the path.

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Another creature with wings.