The Florida scrub-jay is on the brink of extinction, as less than 10 percent remain due to development pushing them out of the only place they can survive: dense scrub oak and saw palmettos packed into the dry sandy hills of the Florida scrub.
But a man known as “Mr. Scrub Jay” to friends and family, Fred Hunter, has dedicated himself to protect this bird and the habitat it depends upon.
Hunter owns 600-acres that runs along the Seminole State Forest on the east, west and south and the Ocala National Forest on the north. Back in 2003, the retired Navy commander built a log house on it for his family to visit, and to be with his jays. He and his wife Ann provide hospitality for all the visitors associated with protecting the Florida scrub-jay on this important wildlife corridor. About 300-plus acres of his property is scrub, and about half is suitable for Florida scrub-jays.
In the 1920s, roughly 100,000 scrub-jays were counted in Florida. But a 1992 census counted 10,000 and in 2011 another count saw a population reduction to 6,000.
Density is important. These Jays flourish in small oak clumps about waist high interspersed between diverse vegetation with open sand comprising one-third of the space. These open areas allow the jays to see their predators while the clumps make it difficult for snakes to find the nests.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist, Suzy Daubert, is helping Hunter restore the scrub with financial and technical assistance through the Working Lands for Wildlife and Conservation Stewardship programs. Read more about this story on the Florida NRCS website.