Amidst discussion of changing the state bird to the scrub jay, wildlife researchers are relocating the bright blue Florida native in hopes of saving the threatened species’ population.
Earlier this year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Florida Forest Service moved nine scrub jays from the Ocala National Forest, 20 miles south to Seminole State Forest.
“The goal is to relocate, or ‘translocate, birds from a stable population in the Ocala National Forest to areas of restored scrub habitat not yet discovered by Florida scrub-jays,” according to an FWC press release.
The relocated birds established new territories, which researchers monitor throughout this year’s breeding season.
The Florida scrub-jay is one of the most imperiled bird species in North America. It’s remaining population has dwindled considerably in the past several decades as Florida continues to develop. State environmental groups have made a strong effort at preserving Florida’s remaining scrub through controlled burns and clearing out areas of large trees to increase the size of a scrub habitat.
The Lyonia Preserve in Deltona sits on a high sandy ridge that offers the perfect nesting ground for scrub jays. Since 1994, restoration efforts have removed overgrown sand pines, creating the characteristic bare sand areas with low-growing vegetation preferred by scrub species. Environmental specialists offer free guided hikes through the sugar-fine sand to discover a scrub jay at 9 a.m. each Friday.
The Florida scrub jay was listed as a threatened state species by FWC in 1975 and it was officially listed as a threatened federal species by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 1987.
Previous efforts to relocate Florida scrub-jays typically involved small numbers of scrub-jays taken from private lands with a federal incidental take permit. The FWC and its partners hope that the current research project will help clarify when and how biologists can translocate this fragile bird to public lands.
House minority leader Mark Pafford started a campaign to name the Florida scrub jay the new state bird. He argued that the current state bird, the Northern mockingbird, is the state bird of several other states, while the scrub jay is found exclusively in Florida.