WatchList Species Account for Florida Scrub-Jay
(Aphelocoma coerulescens)


Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species

 

Florida Scrub-Jay

Photo: Daniel J. Lebbin

Federally listed as threatened, the Florida Scrub-Jay, Florida’s only endemic bird, is found in the north and central peninsular part of the state; key sites for it include Ocala National Forest, Canaveral Seashore, Avon Park Airforce Base, and Archbold Biological Station. This species has declined from about 10,000 breeding pairs in 1993 to only about 4,000 breeding pairs today. Today’s numbers are probably no more than 10% the population of presettlement times.

 

This jay's habitat is dry shrub and scrubby areas with several species of evergreen oaks which rarely exceed 6-7 feet in height, with a ground cover dominated by saw palmetto. Prime habitat may also include up to 15% cover of slash pines and sand pines. This rare xeric community occurs only on porous sandy soils, and contains 18 federally-listed plants. Optimal habitat develops 5-15 years after a fire.

 

Florida Scrub-Jays rarely wander far from where they were fledged. Their breeding system has been the subject of much study; in it, a pair of birds establishes a permanent territory, with offspring from previous years operating as nest helpers.

 

Threats to this species include habitat destruction and fragmentation from urban development and agriculture. Fire suppression creates late successional habitat which causes the birds to abandon areas as well. Off-road vehicles may cause disturbance to the species in Ocala National Forest.

 

To survive, the Florida Scrub-Jay needs large areas of diverse oak-scrub habitat, away from human settlement, that is burned regularly during the growing season before acorn caching is complete, and before hawk migration begins. Ideal areas would be 700 acres or more to support the 40 or so territories to create a long-term self-sustaining population. Existing habitat "islands" should be connected to each other by not more than 2-3 miles of scrub habitat.

 

Translocations of nest helpers to new areas of habitat will likely be required to establish new breeding populations, due to the sedentary nature of this species.