Florida Scrub-Jay Life History

Habitat

Habitat Scrub

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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Food

Food Omnivore

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. 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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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Tree

Florida Scrub-Jays nest at the edge of a clump of low shrubs. They tend to place the nest in sand live oak trees under dense greenbrier vines or dense clumps of leaves about 3 feet above the ground.

Nest Description

Males and females collect twigs from oaks and fibers from saw palmetto and cabbage palm. Oak twigs make up the outer basket of the nest and smaller twigs and palm fibers make up the inner basket. Both sexes help build the nest, but the female spends more time shaping the cup.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:1-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.9-1.2 in (2.4-3.1 cm)
Egg Width:0.8-0.8 in (1.9-2.1 cm)
Incubation Period:16-21 days
Nestling Period:12-25 days
Egg Description:Greenish with brownish spots concentrated near large end.
Condition at Hatching:Naked and helpless.
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Behavior

Behavior Ground Forager

Florida Scrub-Jays hop on the ground with a certain robustness as they navigate around oak scrub. When perched in a tree or shrub they typically sit vertically with their long tail hanging straight down. Resting birds tend to hold their bodies more horizontally with their head pulled in. Their flights are generally short, direct, and appear somewhat labored. Florida Scrub-Jays are reluctant to fly across non-oak-scrub habitat and rarely stray from the area where they hatched. 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. If the sentinel spots a threat they give a call and the rest of the family heads for cover. During territorial displays and courtship, males and females fly steeply downward from a high perch or upward from a low perch and continue to fly in an undulating pattern while calling. Intruding males are often met with sideways hopping with the tail tilted towards the intruder. Males and females also bob up and down and point their bill upward when they detect an intruder. During courtship, a male hops in a circle around a female with his fanned tail tipped toward her and dragging on the ground. He also fans out the feathers around the "ear" and eyebrow and sometimes gently pecks at her feet. Males and females form permanent monogamous bonds that are reinforced by mate feeding, especially during the nesting season. Florida Scrub-Jays collect acorns during the fall and bury them throughout their territory to eat later in the year. They also relish peanuts and sometimes become habituated to humans.

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Conservation

Conservation Red Watch List

The Florida Scrub-Jay is a declining species with an estimated global breeding population of 4,000 individuals according to Partners in Flight. They are a Red Watch List species with a Continental Concern Score of 20 out of 20. Florida Scrub-Jays are also a Tri-National Concern Species, and a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species. The species is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and is federally listed as Threatened in the U.S. Primary threats include habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation due to Florida’s heavy urban, suburban, and agricultural development; and fire suppression. In the absence of lightning-ignited, low-intensity fires (which used to be very common in Florida) the oak-scrub community becomes too dense and tall to support Florida Scrub-Jays.

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Credits

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love (2016). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2016.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

Woolfenden, Glen E. and John W. Fitzpatrick. 1996. Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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