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A photo of a Florida Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens)
Florida Scrub Jay

Florida Scrub Jay

Aphelocoma coerulescens

The Florida scrub jay, Aphelocoma coerulescens, is a striking bird with a blue head and nape, lacking a crest, and a contrasting whitish forehead and supercilium. Its wings are also blue, while the underparts are a soft gray. The back shares this gray coloration, and the long blue tail is quite distinctive. The bird's bill is robust and black, and its legs and feet share the same dark hue. Adult birds typically measure between 23 to 28 cm in length and weigh between 66 to 92 grams, with an average weight of around 80.2 grams. Their wingspan ranges from 33 to 36 cm.

Identification Tips

When identifying the Florida scrub jay, look for the absence of a crest on the blue head, the whitish area above the eye, and the blue bib. The grayish underparts and back, along with the long blue tail, are also key characteristics. Juveniles can be recognized by their brown head feathers, which gradually turn blue as they mature.

Habitat

This bird is exclusively found in the Florida scrub habitat, a unique ecosystem characterized by nutrient-poor soil, occasional droughts, and frequent wildfires. This habitat is home to a variety of specialized flora, including sand pine and various species of oak.

Distribution

The Florida scrub jay is endemic to the state of Florida, making it the only bird species entirely restricted to this region. It is one of only 15 bird species endemic to the continental United States.

Behaviour

These jays are known for their omnivorous diet, feeding on acorns, seeds, insects, and small vertebrates. They are also known to cache acorns, which can lead to the germination of new oak trees. In some rare instances, they have been observed exhibiting cooperative hunting behavior. They are also known for their remarkable tameness, often willingly taking food from human hands.

Breeding

Florida scrub jays are cooperative breeders, with offspring often staying with their parents for several years to assist with rearing new young, watching for predators, and defending territory. They typically form mating pairs after 2 to 3 years and breed from March to June. Clutches usually consist of 3 to 4 eggs, which hatch after about 17 days, with fledging occurring in 16 to 19 days.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the Florida scrub jay is varied, including acorns, seeds, peanuts, insects, and small vertebrates like tree frogs, turtles, snakes, lizards, and young mice. They are also known to cache food, particularly acorns, for later consumption.

Conservation status

The Florida scrub jay is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN and Critically Imperiled by NatureServe. Habitat loss due to development, wildfire suppression, and climate change are significant threats to this species. Conservation efforts include habitat preservation through controlled burns and clearing large trees to expand scrub habitats. Despite these efforts, the population is still in decline, with an estimated 8,000 mature individuals remaining. Human feeding has been identified as a danger to the species, leading to malnutrition or starvation of early-hatched fledglings and increased risk of vehicle collisions.

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Florida Scrub Jays on Birda

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