Then and Now

Florida scrub jay - what is causing their extinction?

Its no secret to even the most casual fan of the Florida Scrub Jay that the species is in fact rare and endangered. The fact that the bird used to be literally everywhere is Central Florida and through much of South Florida astounds newer birders. The actual numbers are quite astounding.

In the last 100 years the Florida Scrub Jay has gone from being found in 39 Florida counties to being found in only 3 counties. By some estimations they have gone from around 100,000 total birds to just under 4,000 in the last 50-60 years. So, what is happening?

As you may have guessed human encroachment is the reason this bird is disappearing. The Florida Scrub Jay has become so accustomed to the Scrub habitat that it simply cannot survive outside of it. Not only that, if the scrub is not regularly burned, the bird becomes victim to predator birds which can use tall trees and overgrown scrub to their advantage. Lightning strikes in the wild used to make sure there was plenty of clear cut scrub. Now, when there is any fire in the remining scrub lands, it is usually doused by firefighters.

Residential, industrial and commercial developments have taken over much of Florida’s scrub land. The same characteristics which make the land ideal for scrub growth also happens to be exactly what humans are looking for when it comes to their habitat as well. These characteristics include flat & relatively dry land.

The largest single attack on the Florida scrub (and Jay) were the developments of citrus crops. These crops have been a popular undertaking in Florida since the 1800’s but in the mid-1900’s there was a real citrus rush. Companies poured millions of dollars into clearcutting Florida scrub and planting oranges. Many people don’t even realize that oranges are not from North America at all. They are originally from China.

Residential sprawl is the current largest threat to this bird. And there are literally no campaigns, efforts or conversations among any official entity about limiting the growth of the human population in the State of Florida. The future looks bleak for our little blue and grey friends.

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