What is a Florida Scrub-Jay?

Carol Kindle

The Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) is a species of bird that lives only in the state of Florida in North America. This bird has some of the same characteristics as the common blue jay, including bright blue feathers on its head and wings. The most notable difference is that the Florida Scrub-Jay does not have the crest on the top of its head.

The Florida Scrub-Jay is a species of bird that lives only in the state of Florida.
The Florida Scrub-Jay is a species of bird that lives only in the state of Florida.

Measuring about 11 inches long (28 cm), these scrub-jays weigh between 2.5 to three ounces (75-85 gm). The males are only slightly larger than the females, and their coloring is very similar. Juveniles of this species have brown feathers on the top of their heads. These brown feathers molt and are replaced with blue feathers as the juveniles mature.

Sandy scrub habitat areas of the central regions of Florida are very important for this scrub-jay. The largest populations are found in the Ocala National Forest and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. These birds thrive in open areas of scrub that are surrounded by oak trees. An important food source for Florida Scrub-Jays is the acorn. They will gather and bury acorns in the sandy soil in the fall, and dig them up and feed on them in the winter.

The Florida Scrub-Jay is omnivorous and feeds on both plant and animal materials. In addition to eating acorns and other seeds, these birds feed on insects, lizards, mice, and treefrogs. They catch their prey by hopping or running along the ground.

Males and females form monogamous mating pairs at about two to three years of age. At this time they select a territory and remain there together permanently. Mating season is from March to June and the female will usually lay three to four pale green eggs. The female cares for the eggs for about 18 days until they hatch. Juvenile scrub-jays, or fledglings, acquire feathers and begin to fly about two to three weeks after hatching.

Fledgling scrub-jays remain with their parents for the next two to three years until they are of breeding age themselves. This allows these scrub-jays to live as a family unit. Each year as the female lays her eggs, the juveniles born the previous year are available to help her feed and care for the new chicks as they hatch. The juveniles watch for predators that can include snakes, raccoons, or cats.

Hawks, falcons, and cats are the primary predators of the adult Florida Scrub-Jay. Since these scrub-jays live in a limited territory, over-development of that territory by humans can decrease their numbers. Fire damage can also destroy the scrub habitat. On the other hand, overgrowth of the scrub can be dangerous for the scrub-jay, as they need open areas to forage for food. Periodic fires are necessary to prevent overgrowth, but there must be a careful balance between these options to preserve the scrub habitat.

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