Jay Watch 2012

[dc]I[/dc]n late March, my co-worker Aubrey and I travelled to Port Charlotte, Florida to do an annual Florida Scrub-Jay survey in a community that is well-known for its jay population (we are both currently employed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission…check out their website HERE!).  Here, there are building restrictions because of the presence of jays.  There are numerous empty lots that will not be built on because of jays.  Of course, as with most cases like this, there can be exceptions to development when the builder pays money into a fund for habitat preservation in another area for Florida Scrub-Jays; not an ideal solution for the existing jays, but it keeps developers slightly happy to have this option.  Over the years, my boss, Dr. Karl Miller, has closely studied the jay population; the slow and tedious process of development here has clearly helped the jays.  This community is one of the most stable of its kind for jays. During our surveys, we were greeted by mostly positive landowners who appreciated what were doing to monitor the jays, and most landowners here would like to do whatever possible to keep the jays.  It is a win-win situation in a state where an empty lot doesn’t actually stay empty for long; landowners are happy with less neighbors, and jays are happy with their historical territories being preserved.

To survey the birds, we used playback to draw jays in, although most of them were curious enough to simply fly in and check us out.  For jays that did not want to come out into the open, we used peanuts to entice them to open ground so we could read their bands (or confirm lack of bands).  We then followed them down streets and through yards until they hit the invisible walls of their territory boundaries and didn’t want to go any farther. Usually on these boundaries, fights with neighboring jays would occur, and intruders were quickly chased off.  Territory boundaries were also made visible when jays would line up on fence posts or utility poles and refuse to move or fly closer to us, even for a peanut thrown on the “wrong side” of the boundary.  It was also evident when a single jay would follow us onto the neighboring territory (not able to resist a peanut), as it would fly back to its own territory and cache it. In most cases, jays who were on their territories would literally cache the peanut almost exactly where we threw it.

Florida Scrub-Jay: The single black band indicates this bird was banded as a fledgling (it now appears to be a “helper”)

Banded female Florida Scrub-Jay; breeding females are often fed by the “helpers” of their family group and can’t be bothered to be interested in peanuts

Florida Scrub-Jay about to cache a peanut

Many of the birds in these communities were banded by Karl many years ago.  Some of these birds are still alive and well!   In some cases, we found fledglings from the last years that Karl banded; those fledglings are either the “helpers” or the breeders on the same territories where they hatched. In some cases, we did see signs of dispersal, where single jays have moved a few miles and joined or created new territories; typical behavior for jays.  Many of the territories, however, contain the same exact individuals (if they have survived) and the territory boundaries have only changed slightly…pretty amazing!  Here are a few of the highlights from the 3 day survey.

A very curious Florida Scrub-Jay

Florida Scrub-Jay nest: This nest was being built by a “helper” jay while the breeding female was sitting on a powerline and being fed peanuts by another “helper”

Florida Scrub-Jay

Gray Catbirds are always interested in the loud activity of a family group of jays


Although this Red-tailed Hawk was eating a rabbit (and not a jay!), he was not welcomed by the local group of jays and was driven off


Florida Scrub-Jay watching a peanut fall


We would all love to see Florida Scrub-jays continue to thrive in the few areas where they still exist in Florida.  Here are a few things you can do to help; habitat preservation and maintenance is the key to keeping these beautiful blue birds around for future generations to see.

(The following info is taken directly from the FWC website at http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/birds/songbirds/florida-scrub-jay/)

What You Can Do To Help:

  1. Support establishment of regional and local scrub-jay preserves. Protection of scrub-jay populations on managed tracts of optimal habitat is the best means of protecting this species.
  2. Provide habitat for scrub-jays. Plant, protect, and cultivate patches of shrubby scrub live oak, Chapman’s oak, myrtle oak, and scrub oak on your property. Maintain all of your landscaping at a maximum of 10 feet in height if you live on or near scrub-jay habitat.
  3. Protect scrub-jays from your pets. Encourage passage and strict enforcement of leash lows for cats and dogs in your community. Protect areas being used by nesting scrub-jays from domestic animals, especially cats.
  4. Restrict use of pesticides. Scrub-jays feed on insects usually considered pests around golf courses and homes. Pesticides may limit or contaminate food used by the jays. Reduce use of pesticides if possible; if you must use them, please do so with caution.
  5. Report malicious destruction or harassment of scrub-jays or their nests. 888-404-FWCC (3922)”