scrub jay

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“Blue Jays” of the Pacific Northwest ~ Eileen Kitayama 2017

Top:  California Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)

Bottom:  Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

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The Florida scrub jay is omnivorous, eating nuts, seeds, insects, frogs, turtles, lizards, snakes, baby mice, and even sometimes the eggs and nestlings of other birds.  Acorns are a particularly important part of its diet; during the fall, jays will hide thousands of acorns to be eaten through the winter, usually by burying them under a thin layer of soil.  Many of these acorns likely go uneaten and may sprout, meaning the scrub jay is an important agent in the dispersal and creation of oak trees and forests.

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Florida scrub jays breed in the spring, the female laying three to four eggs in cup-shaped nests.  While both males and females will help tend and care for the young, the gender roles are strictly divided; females will incubate the eggs and tend the nestlings, while the males guard the territory and gather food for the family.  While adult scrub jays enjoy a very varied diet, nestlings are fed almost exclusively on fat and protein-rich caterpillars.  This is partly why early breeding can be disastrous for scrub jays; if there are no caterpillars for the nestlings, they will starve.

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Florida Scrub Jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) are found in upland scrub ecosystems unique to Florida ( also one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America). These area are the remnants of ancients dune when what is now Florida first appeared above sea level This ecosystem is one of the few in Florida that rarely floods, so it was the first to be developed for citrus groves and later for housing developments. Currently, habitat loss is still the main threat to Florida Scrub Jays but due to fragmented population, genetic diversity is likely to become a major issue.

Helen & Allan Cruickshank Sanctuary

Rockledge, FL

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Ironically, certain efforts at habitat preservation may be detrimental to species such as the Florida scrub jay.  The jay lives in scrubland unique to central Florida (Florida scrub), an arid ecosystem which is dominated by shrubs and small trees and is also known for frequent wildfires.  In the last century, much effort has been put into fighting and extinguishing wildfires, believing that they were decimating the ecosystems.  However, these fires are actually a vital part of the scrubland; without frequent fires to weed out the larger trees and keep the plant and tree numbers down, the scrub becomes dominated by large oak trees.  This makes the area unsuitable for scrubland animals such as the Florida scrub jay.  As a result, preservation of most managed areas of Florida scrub now includes controlled fires.

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Florida Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens)

Currently the Florida state bird is the Northern Mockingbird. There is nothing wrong with that bird but it is every other state’s official bird. We deserve a bird as unique as Florida. The Florida Scrub Jay is found only in Florida and would be a much better symbol of our state.

Helen & Allan Cruickshank Sanctuary

Rockledge, FL