Florida Scrub-Jay

ABAOf the first 100 species seen by Athena, all were classified by the American Birding Association (ABA) as “Category 1″ birds on the ABA checklist. Not surprisingly, code 1 birds are the easiest birds to see described as “Regularly occurring North American Avifauna” that are both widespread & numerous. Some of these birds still require traveling to a specific geographic area and/or being there at the proper season though. If one were to record every “Code 1″ bird found in the US & Canada (ABA area) they would see 490 bird species in total. In comparison, “Code 2″ birds are also not difficult to see but are generally much less widespread. They have very localized or restricted ranges, and represent an additional 259 species on the ABA checklist.

Florida Scrub-Jay

Florida Scrub-Jay – Port Charlotte, FL, January 2014

It took a little while, but Athena finally saw her first Category 2 bird in Port Charlotte, Florida, the enigmatic Florida Scrub-Jay. Like all Scrub-Jays, the Florida Scrub-Jay (FSJ) is gregarious and social, forming small family groups in localized areas and as the name implies it is ONLY found in Florida (the only endemic bird species in the state). Even the most northerly FSJ is still geographically isolated from the closest populations of Western Scrub-Jays by over 900 miles as the corvid flies.

Florida Scrub-Jay

Florida Scrub-Jay

FSJ’s averages paler than other Scrub-Jays with lighter blues and more “frosty” crowns. They are primarily non-migratory though (as Western Scrub-Jays) so identification between other Scrub-jay species is not an issue. This lovely, sedentary species also has very specific habitat preferences and it thrives when areas burn regularly to keep the understory vegetation to a minimum. They prefer higher, well drained habitats which unfortunately, are also the best areas for development. Not surprisingly, Florida Scrub-Jays are endangered and a bit unpopular amongst a part of the population.  Primarily, developers who want to build on Scrub-Jay territories, and politicians who view “progress” in terms of who much land in their jurisdiction is developed and populated. It’s a shame more wild areas often aren’t viewed as being as valuable, but developing and selling a property with buildings at a high profit is immediately tangible. Wild areas can help to promote eco-tourism to an area, but difficult for some who lack vision to appreciate it seems.

Past attempts to relocate Scrub-Jays have met minimal success due to the birds strongly, developed site fidelity. It seems you stand a chance of relocating successfully only with young birds in their first year of life, but more data is needed to confirm these successes. Recent legislature has also changed making it much easier to develop Florida Scrub-Jay habitats by merely paying a comparatively nominal fee. This paints a grim future for this charismatic bird. However, if there is a bright side to the story it is that their social nature means they will readily accept peanuts off the hands of a human observer. Through close and personal interactions like these, many non-birders have connected strongly with these birds and this shared bond will often lead to advocacy! Let’s hope this bird remains a code 2 bird for a long time to come.