To Protect Florida Scrub-Jays, We Need Populations of All Sizes

Approximately 75% of all Florida Scrub-Jays live in one of just four areas around the state. Here's why that's a risk for the species.

If you’re looking for Florida Scrub-Jays, chances are you’ll find them in Ocala National Forest, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and Lake Wales Ridge. Approximately 75% of all scrub-jay family groups live at one of these four sites.

“That’s a risk for the species as a whole,” explains Audubon’s Director of Bird Conservation Audrey DeRose-Wilson. “We need more population locations to protect jays from disease, storm impacts, and habitat changes.”

The solution? Invest in management and restoration efforts not only for large jay population centers, but moderate-sized populations too. Recovery for the Florida Scrub-Jay is more than just meeting a target number of birds or family groups; we also need enough populations and genetic diversity within those populations to ensure the jay’s long-term future.

The Cross Florida Greenway Triangle (CFG) represents a moderate-sized population center that needs to be protected. The CFG not only hosts one of Audubon’s annual Jay Watch trainings, its staff also coordinates one of the largest Jay Watch efforts of the season and actively works to manage the site for the jays. In the 2023 count, 44 family groups made their homes within the CFG. The team, led by Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Laurie Dolan, experimented with different mechanical techniques to remove vegetation and restore scrub habitat to as close to what can be achieved with f ire as possible. Prescribed fire is the best management tool for scrub-jays, but the proximity to the I-75 thoroughfare and residential neighborhoods means that fire can’t be used to maintain enough good habitat for jays at this site. Dolan and her team augment the fires they can set with mechanical management techniques to create open scrub. Since restoration efforts began in 2004, the population has steadily increased from eight scrubjays to the current 44 family groups—a stunning success story for this vulnerable species.

It’s worth noting that populations with 10-39 family groups play an important role in population recovery because they hold genetic diversity and increase opportunities for scrub-jays to disperse. However, the few populations outside of the strongholds with over 40 family groups are especially resilient and important to recovery.

Audubon continues to work with partners across more than 45 Jay Watch sites to collect data, inform land management decisions, and work toward policy solutions that will protect and restore habitat. As more areas gain 40+ jay families, the closer we will come to species recovery. 

This article first appeared in the 2023 Jay Watch Report.

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