Environment and Science
9:26 am
Thu January 24, 2013

Palm Bay Scrub Jays Get New Lease On Life

Recently, some Brevard County residents received a letter notifying them that some of their neighborhood birds were about to be captured and relocated to a conservation area. Partners in this effort - Brevard Zoo and state and federal wildlife services - say the move will be beneficial to the birds. For Florida scrub jays life in the suburbs is not always easy. 

A captured scrub jay bites its handler. Notice the identification bands on the jays legs. Each jay gets a unique color and number sequence.
A captured scrub jay bites its handler. Notice the identification bands on the jays legs. Each jay gets a unique color and number sequence.
Credit Vince Lamb

In the middle of a Palm Bay neighborhood, Brevard Zoo conservation coordinator, Tracy Frampton, and a team of scientists and volunteers have set up baited traps next to some wooded lots. Frampton has been monitoring two families of Florida scrub jays here for weeks in preparation for today’s capture.

These federally threatened birds are only found in Florida - nowhere else on Earth. Frampton says Palm Bay was once a flourishing habitat for the jays, but numbers here have continued to dwindle since rapid development during the housing boom.  

Craig Faulhaber, scrub jay conservation coordinator for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is along today helping with the capture. He says many factors are working against these suburban birds, keeping them from rebounding or in some cases even surviving. Suburban habitat is fragmented and can get very overgrown, providing places for predators, like hawks, to hide and pick scrub jays off.

New predators such as cats and vehicles are particularly detrimental to the birds. Some studies have indicated that scrub jays in the suburbs also have lowered success raising their young. In addition, there are fewer insects and spiders in suburban habitat, making it tough for young scrub jays to get enough protein to grow and develop properly.

"People in the suburbs really do love their scrub jays."

Development pressure also continues to factor in. Under a citywide Federal permit issued in 2007, Palm Bay allows building on these areas, despite the presence of scrub jays.

The city has a habitat conservation plan and an incidental take permit. The reason these birds are eligible for relocation is because the necessary permits are in place for these lots to be developed.

Still not everyone is pleased about the move. Complaints mostly come from people who just don’t want to lose the birds from their community.

Florida Fish and Wildlife's Craig Faulhaber reads identification numbers from a scrub jay's leg band.
Florida Fish and Wildlife's Craig Faulhaber reads identification numbers from a scrub jay's leg band.
Credit Vince Lamb

Craig Faulhaber says scrub jays are very charismatic birds and stay in one place for their entire lives, so it’s easy for people to become familiar with them.  

“People in the suburbs really do love their scrub jays,” he adds.

A trap clashes against the ground, catching a jay. Two complete families of jays are caught today. They’re headed to Buck Lake Conservation Area, in Mims.

Buck Lake is managed by St. John’s River Water Management District. The area already has a small population of scrub jays. Jays relocated from Palm Bay are expected to be a beneficial addition.

“Our populations on our managed conservation lands represent the future for scrub jays, but those populations are really small and we need to build those up,” says Faulhaber.

Faulhaber explains that scrub jays live in family groups that rely on each other for protection. Although they do have some territorial disputes, they also form a sort of neighborhood watch system to alert each other of danger.

So the Palm Bay jays get a new home and the Buck Lake jays get some new neighbors in a hopeful win-win. Partners in the project say they’ll be doing several more translocations and hope the Florida scrub jays will be around for years to come.

Some members of the scrub jay relocation team: (front row) Maria Zondervan, Michelle Smurl and Amanda Jones; (back row) Craig Faulhaber, David Breininger and Kimberly Tillman.
Some members of the scrub jay relocation team: (front row) Maria Zondervan, Michelle Smurl and Amanda Jones; (back row) Craig Faulhaber, David Breininger and Kimberly Tillman.
Credit Vince Lamb

Update: According to Brevard Zoo’s Tracy Frampton, the jays were reunited at Buck Lake and are doing well.

Follow @MichelleZWalker on Twitter.