Florida Scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens)

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The Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) is 10 to 12 inches long and weighs only two and half ounces. It is the size of a mockingbird and it is a blue and grey colored bird. The back and the belly of the scrub-jay is a pale grey in contrast to the pale blue found on the head, neck, nape and tail. The Florida scrub-jay is similar in appearance to the common blue jay, but does not have a crest, black bars and white tipped feathers.

There is little difference between the male and female scrub-jay. The only difference between the juveniles and the adults is that the juveniles lack the blue coloring on their crown and nape. To date the oldest reported scrub-jay is 15 and half years, but it is not often that they live that long.

As indicated by the name of the Florida scrub-jay, it can be found only in peninsular Florida; although historically the scrub-jay could be found in over 39 counties south of and including, Gilchrist, Levy, Clay, Alachua and Duval. They are now officially extinct in 9 of these counties, which includes Alachua, Dade, Gilchrist, Broward, Clay, Duval, St. Johns and Hendry Pinellas Counties. Over the last 15 years it has been estimated that the scrub-jay population has decreased by 25 to 50% but has declined as much as 80% in the last 100 years.

The Florida scrub-jay’s habitat is scrub, a unique vegetation community that is made up of plants that exist well in sandy, nutrient poor soil with a good drainage system. This vegetation is dependant on wildfires that periodically take place and can take both long periods of drought and high seasonal rainfall. You can also find a variety of oaks and pines in this vegetation, which the scrub-jays enjoy.

Florida Scrub-jays are territorial birds and so will defend their territory, which averages about 23 acres in size. Their territory will grow in size if either their family size grows or the habitat they live in is not optimal. They are therefore non-migratory birds unlike so many others.

These birds are omnivores, often eating insects, reptiles, frogs, acorns, seeds and berries. Of these it is the insects that make up the majority of the scrub-jays diet in spring and summer. Then in winter when insects are hard to come by, the birds will eat mostly acorns from a variety of oak trees.

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)

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The Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) is not purple and does not cry “Beep Beep” when ready to speed away. It does, however, run at great speeds and is extremely agile. At fifteen to seventeen miles per hour, it can give most animals a run for their money. The Greater Roadrunner is 22 inches in length, and is part of the cuckoo family. The Roadrunner is predominantly dark brown, with white spots and white belly. Their eyes are yellow and there is bare skin around the eye, with post-ocular streaks. A dark crest of plumage on the head can be raised and lowered. The Roadrunner has blue legs and beak, and the feet are zygodactylous. Zygodactylous means that the feet have two toes pointing forward and two backward. The males and females are similar in coloring and appearance.

Greater Roadrunners are generally found in New Mexico, California, Utah and most regions in the southern United States. The Roadrunners prefer desert areas that have both scattered brush areas and open land. Open grasslands allow the Roadrunner to reach top speed that enables them to catch fast moving lizards, rodents, insects and snakes. They do also feed on specific seeds and fruits at times. This bird might look comical and harmless, but they are fierce predators. Running toward their prey and catching flying insects and small birds out the air, are both hunting techniques that are used by the Greater Roadrunner. It uses its tail as a rudder to maneuver and change direction when running.

Not every year is a fierce fight for a mate during breeding season, as Greater Roadrunners mate for life. Males that have not found a suitable partner will either chase the female, entice them with food or bow in front of the female to catch her attention. Nesting is determined by the rainfall a region receives, meaning that in a region where only one rainfall period is experienced, there will be only one nesting period, and nesting will take place in both August and September in a region that has two rainfall periods. Rainfall ensures that there will be enough resources for both the parents and the chicks. The male Greater Roadrunners will collect building material for the nests and the female is responsible for the construction. Nests are built off the ground, as Roadrunners are capable of flight, although rarely used. The female can lay between two to eight eggs, and both parents assist in the 20 day incubation period. The chicks are able to fledge the nest after only 18 to 21 days, but are still fed by their parents for up to 40 days.

Greater Roadrunners are also very territorial and do not migrate. They can live between 7 to 8 years of age, and sexual maturity is only reached between the ages of two to three years. They are very inquisitive birds, and have very unusual skills to cope with the extremely warm conditions in which they live. They are able to enter into hypothermia in the evenings, which assists them to conserve energy. During the midday heat, they will reduce their activity, and they are also able to conserve water.

Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa)

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Its long slender toes stretch out across the floating water vegetation, it easily runs across the water in search of a tasty meal, this is the “lily trotter” or Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa). Jacanas throughout the world are known for their remarkable body structure and walking on water skills. The Northern Jacana is found all along the coastline of Mexico, into western Panama, in Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba and even Texas of USA. This is a truly fascinating wading bird to observe, so keep an eye out for them on marshy waterways.

The Northern Jacana as with most Jacanas is easily identified by its long toes. Their bodies are about the same size as a robin. The body is mostly dark with black plumage on the head and neck. The Northern Jacana has pale green flight feathers and a distinctive yellow bill and frontal shield. Juveniles have white underparts. These unusual birds are also identified by their harsh “jik” call which progressively speeds up to a chatter. The large feet and claws of the Northern Jacana are what give it the ability to walk atop floating vegetation. In fact, the toes cover an area of 12 by 14 cm, thus dispersing the bird’s mass over a large area. They are particularly fond of lake and fresh-water marsh habitats.

Northern Jacanas are known for being quite aggressive and territorial. They frequently fight with each other using their weapons – spurs located on the bend of the wing. Floating nests are built on the water. Female Northern Jacanas are polyandrous and are often spoken of as the prostitute bird. A clutch of 3 to 5 eggs is laid in the floating nest which is built and cared for by the male. The male Northern Jacana incubates the eggs for a period of 22 to 24 days whilst the female guards her males. Once the young ones hatch, they will fledge in 28 days. The father will teach his precocial chicks how to forage for various foods such as insects, mollusks, worms and fish. Should danger approach, he will carry them under his wings. Its quite easy to understand why the unique Northern Jacana’s are popular amongst bird watchers.