Florida Scrub-jay Relocation Project

Florida Scrub-jay Relocation Project

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The Florida Scrub-jay is often cited as the friendliest bird in the field. Despite being listed as a threatened species in 1987 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the populations of scrub-jays have dwindled steadily. In 1992, the population was estimated at 7,000 to 11,000, scattered in small patches across peninsular Florida. Today, the population has probably declined by another 20 to 30%.

Anyone who has encountered a Florida Scrub-jay knows why this bird is so unique. Scrub-jays are highly social and are extremely vulnerable to predators and to the activities of humans. Unlike the western North American species of scrub-jays, Florida Scrub-jays have a unique social structure that involves cooperative breeding. This means that young scrub-jays remain with the breeding pair as "helpers" to assist in forming a closely knit cooperative family group.

Mosaic has long recognized the need to protect these special birds and in response has conducted translocations of this protected species from a site where activities may impact habitat to another that is protected. This important work has been managed in Manatee County under the direction of Florida Scrub-jay expert Dr. Reed Bowman of the Archbold Biological Station at Lake Placid. Dr. Bowman is researching the use of translocations to improve the long-term viability of the Florida Scrub-jay population in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties.

"This program is extremely important because scrub-jay populations in this region of Florida are fragmented, isolated and small and at great risk of extinction as more habitat is lost to increased development of upland habitats," said Dr. Bowman. "To determine the most effective conservation solutions to this problem, nine years ago we performed a spatially explicit population viability analysis to assess the effects of different preservation and mitigation options on the long-term viability of the population. By modeling seven different scenarios, we learned that the probability of extinction and quasi-extinction of the Florida Scrub-Jay population would be unacceptably high if we stood by and did nothing. The most effective solution was to create a new population of jays in a large, contiguous patch of habitat permanently protected and managed for jays. However, to do this, and to ensure that this population became established and thrived, we needed to move jays."

Dr. Bowman began working with Mosaic in 2003 to combine on-site habitat reclamation with the translocation of jays to a 1,000-acre Mosaic-owned habitat site. Mosaic's site doubles as a wellfield and is not planned for mining-related disturbance.

When initial surveys were conducted in 2000, only a single scrub-jay family lived at the wellfield. With translocations, the population of jays at the Mosaic wellfield increased to 10 groups (37 individual jays) by July 2009. The increase in population is attributed to significant habitat management efforts, as well as successful translocations, breeding and recruitment of scrub-jays to desirable habitat areas from unmanaged areas outside the wellfield.

Mosaic's scrub habitat management work has prompted new scrub management activities on adjacent lands owned by Manatee County and the State of Florida. The combination of scrub habitat management on 30,000-acres of public lands, the habitat management in place at Mosaic's 1,000-acre wellfield site and the rural location and low development pressures affecting these areas have all helped contribute to the success of the program.

In addition, selective use of radio telemetry — a technology that helps researchers learn more about scrub-jay behavior upon release into new environments — and the long-term monitoring and reporting of translocated scrub-jays has helped provide researchers with new data and insights to improve the future translocation efforts and to better develop efficient and effective conservation solutions.