For such a large country, the United States has a shockingly low number of endemic bird species, perhaps only 15 in the contiguous 48 states. Equally shocking is the idea that two of those species are scrub-jays! Most corvids are eminently adaptable. Certainly, jays like Blue, Gray, and Steller’s rule their respective domains through teamwork, cunning, and sheer ornery resilience. The Western Scrub-Jay possesses a similar generalist sensibility. Our other scrub-jays are a little more challenged.
The range restriction of the Island Scrub-Jay makes sense, as the bird is entirely confined to Santa Cruz Island in California. The Florida Scrub-Jay, on the other hand, is isolated by islands of habitat. Florida scrub, characterized by low shrubs and dwarf oak trees, arises from well-drained, sandy soil subjected to regular fire. This arid ecosystem is itself endangered, so it’s no wonder that the Florida Scrub-Jay is struggling.
All scrub-jays are beautiful in their sleek aquamarine, blue-steel, and gunmetal gray plumage. The Florida Scrub-Jay does its genus proud, with a long, lean profile and bright powder gray around its brows and throat. These generally confiding jays subsist on a wide range of foods, from invertebrates to cold-blooded critters to small mammals bolstered by lots of nuts and seeds. Scrub-jays have an affinity for the acorns of scrub specialty oaks like Chapman, Myrtle, and Sand Live Oaks. Indeed, the jays I encountered are usually found raiding a certain oak tree.
Scrub-jays were high on my list of desired birds at the most excellent Annual Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. Fortunately, they were a cinch to find. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is so solid for these coveted corvids that they even hold their own Florida Scrub-Jay Festival. If you can’t schedule your trip for mid-February, do what I did and drive through the refuge to the entry to Playalinda Beach. Feel free to drive on through if you want to witness pristine Florida ocean front and possibly a whole lot more… Playalinda is infamous for its nude beach! Thanks to the awful cold, all I saw out there were terns, gulls, and gannets. But if you want the scrub-jays, stick around the ranger station. I needed mere minutes to enjoy extremely satisfying views of Florida’s only endemic.
Welcome back. Excellent post, both visually and linguistic.
Yeah, here in Florida, Florida Scrub-Jays are so revered that the Florida legislature turned down a bill to make it our official state bird a few years back. They stuck with Northern Mockingbird. Undoubtedly, lobbyists for the greedy citrus industry, who have virtually depleted former Florida Scub-Jay habitat for their industry’s “foreign” monoculture, were behind it to some extent. This state sucks when it comes to anything related to conservation. All the politicos see is dollar signs and anything that detracts from that “vision” is pretty much useless. So friggin’ sad.
One of my favorite birds ever! <3 FSJs
Nice birds! I’ve never seen them but their social behaviour means I’ve heard quite a bit about them.
I must confess to being slightly confused by the maths at the start. There are over thirty endemics in Hawaii, throw in two jays, and you get around 15? Are there around -15 endemics in the rest of the US? Or have you concluded, in a fashion similar to birthers, that hawaii is not part of the US?
Thanks, Jochen, for the compliment and Vincent and Nick for the comments.
Duncan, thanks for the correction. I meant, of course, the contiguous United States and will correct the error right quick!
Just recently saw these beautiful Scrub Jays at Oscar Scherer State Park; where they work very hard to maintain a proper scrub oak population so these birds can enjoy this preferred habitat.The Rangers and ground workers were very knowledgable and interested in keeping the families of Jays in the park! Congratulations for this effort and good work!! And yes we did get to see these resident families of Scrub Jays!!!
What is the modest birder to do when scoping feathered friends at Playalinda?…just sayin’.
Sweet photos. We have a beach like that at Sandy Hook. The area around the parking lot is great birding. Luckily the beach is not viewable from the lot.
@Patrick: Scrub-Jays, too?
Great post. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Their color is gorgeous, as is the textrue of their lighter-hued feathers. They look odd to me because, as a resident of Blue Jay territory, I’m accustomed to anything that color having a crest.
Great post Mike. Your Florida Scrub-Jay photos are awesome. What a handsome bird! Love that powder gray offsetting the aquamarine on the head.
It saddens me to hear of yet another ecosystem in danger. When will people figure out what is really important on this planet?
Larry, you’re right as usual. We don’t know what the wider effect of irretrievably losing an ecosystem like Florida scrub might be, but that doesn’t stop us from gobbling it all up.
Nice shots. Those are truly handsome birds, but I agree: without a crest they look a bit odd.
These are such beautiful birds. I have taken several pictures of them here in Florida.
Please reread his opening statement, and you will see he says “contiguous” United States. No, Hawaii is not one of those…