Saving the Florida Scrub Jay

A tiny bird setting off climate-change alarm bells

By Mark Collins - Meteorologist
Headline Goes Here NRCS USGA

JACKSONVILLE, Fla - Nowhere in the world except Florida does the Florida scrub-jay call home but the struggle for habitat is increasing for the blue feathered bird.

For a bird that has been around for 2 million years, the scrub-jay has found a special niche in the central Florida oak scrub and scrubby flat woods. The sandy open sand dunes offer a vantage point to spot predators while the scrub plants provide an elevated hiding spot from snakes and hawks.

This successful habitat worked out well for the ancient scrub-jay. Then came Florida's housing boom which threatened the species and it became endangered in 1975. Today rapid land development and deforestation are the leading causes for the reduction in its numbers.

For a bird most commonly spotted along the Lake Wales Ridge south of Orlando, the range-restricted scrub-jay could move northward closer to Jacksonville in a warming planet. Climate change is expected to increase the birds range farther north in the future. But only if the scrub-jay’s habitat, the scrub oak, is available.

In the past, the birds demonstrated success adapting to terrible weather conditions such as drought, seasons of high rainfall and frequent fires. 

Now a large tract of land has been set aside abutting the Seminole State Forest and Ocala National Forest for creating a habitat corridor for the Florida Scrub-jay.

Fred Hunter, is a retired Navy commander and Orlando Native who bought 600 acres with just the right density of scrubby oak vegetation for this protected reserve.

Fire is important for keeping the birds from going extinct. Decades of fire suppression left the remaining scrub too overgrown for the jays to forage and reproduce successfully.

Hunter's restoration efforts will help protect the birds which are remarkably curious and friendly. 

They live and make their nests in areas like his, and once hatched they stay in the same general area for several years. 

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