The number of Florida scrub-jays—the only bird species that lives only in Florida—continued an apparent decline in 2009, according to The Nature Conservancy’s 2009 Jay Watch report.
The species is in trouble at small- to medium-sized scrub sites particularly, the report says.
The Jay Watch report’s findings highlight the role of habitat degradation—seen as the biggest threat to the scrub-jay—in the threatened species’ struggles and show the need for more controlled burns to help restore scrub-jay habitat to appropriate condition.
More than one-third of surveyed sites had vegetation too tall for scrub-jays, according to vegetation survey results. More than one-half of the sites had too little bare ground, which scrub-jays use to cache acorns to eat during winter.
While the report suggests the scrub-jay population overall is declining, it also draws attention to sites—including sites in Manatee and Polk counties—where Jay Watch data have guided controlled burns that helped expand the scrub-jay population.
“Scrub-jays are a threatened species and an indicator of the health of a rare habitat,” said Jay Watch program coordinator Cheryl Millett, a biologist with The Nature Conservancy.
“There is so much work that needs to be done to restore the habitat these amazing birds need to survive, and controlled burns are the main tool for doing that,” she said.
The scrub-jay was designated as a threatened species in 1987 due to loss and degradation of the Florida scrub habitat upon which it depends. This habitat, occurring in peninsular Florida, is fire-maintained oak scrub on well-drained sandy soils.
Jay Watch is a citizen-science initiative started in 2002 and is coordinated through The Nature Conservancy with direction from Archbold Biological Station in Highlands County.
The Jay Watch coordinator and staff at conservation lands train Jay Watch volunteers to monitor scrub-jay populations. Volunteers follow specific protocol, obtaining information that provides accurate status and trend information. The program added vegetation monitoring in 2004. Find out how you can volunteer for jay Watch.
The 2009 Jay Watch data show a decline in the number of scrub-jay groups at 60 percent of the sites surveyed in the early 1990s by the Archbold Biological Station and again last year by Jay Watch. There was an overall decrease from 529 to 384 groups, a 27 percent decline.
“While not a representative sample, this suggests continuing threats to scrub-jay populations,” according to the 2009 report, which will be distributed to Jay Watch volunteers and staff on Saturday at a recognition event at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.