ON & OFF

News, neighbors and notes from on and off the island.


COASTAL CLASSIC

THE FLORIDA SCRUB JAY

Birders love spotting scrub jays, and they should: The Florida scrub jay is the only bird species restricted entirely to Florida and one of only 15 endemic to the United States. Oscar Scherer State Park, just north of Venice, is a great place to spot the little songbirds, who are so gregarious they’ll sometimes alight on your hand or head. While you stroll through the park, scan the tops of shrubs and pines or the side of the road, where scrub jays often hop along in search of their favorite snack, crickets.

Florida scrub jays rarely travel more than eight kilometers, which means that some communities have become genetically distinct from others. Because of that, conservationists attempt to create new communities of scrub jays in areas that bridge the gap between existing populations, in order to strengthen their numbers while diversifying the gene pool. —Hannah Wallace

Endangered

Declared a threatened species in 1987, fewer than 6,000 Florida scrub jays are alive today.

Size-wise

2.4 ounces with a 13-inch wingspan. The long tail gives the illusion of a bigger bird.

Family Bonds

Fledgling scrub jays often stick around their parents as “helpers,” working cooperatively in rearing younger siblings. Fewer than 3 percent of birds worldwide exhibit this behavior.

 Sweet Music?

OK, it’s called a “songbird,” but the scrub jay’s cry is less of a melody and more of a raspy chirp or high-pitched bark. (They’re in the same family, Corvidae, as crows and ravens.)

Support the Cause

The annual Scrub Jay 5K/10K, held every February, benefits Friends of Oscar Scherer State Park and attracts upwards of 500 runners.

 Academic Attention

Cornell University ornithologists Glen Woolfenden and John Fitzpatrick have researched the Florida scrub jay for more than four decades, accounting for one of the longest-running studies of any wild creature.

No Place Like Home?

Not surprisingly, destruction of the birds’ natural habitat from development is responsible for a large part of the species’ struggles. Florida’s human population has gone from less than 5 million in 1960 to nearly 20 million. Today, building regulations limit intruding on scrub jay communities.

FALL | WINTER 2014 | 2015   VENICE MAGAZINE

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