Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Vulnerable because it has a small and fragmented population and range, which continues to decline as a result of urban development and habitat loss and degradation, largely due to fire suppression.
The breeding population was 4,000 pairs in 1993 (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996, G. E. Woolfenden in litt. 1998), but has declined by >25% since then (Boughton and Bowman 2011) and is now estimated at c.3,000 family groups (R. Bowman in litt. 2012). In many areas, average group size is below three, thus the global population is suspected to be 6,000-9,000 individuals, roughly equivalent to 4,000-6,000 mature individuals. Partners in Flight (2019) however, currently estimate the population to total 7,500 mature individuals, therefore the population is placed here in the band 2,500-9,999 mature individuals.
The species suffered a decline of >25% during 1992-2010 (Boughton and Bowman 2011), with populations in some areas suspected to have declined by as much as 40-80% (Boughton and Bowman 2011). Therefore, the rate of decline over three generations is calculated to be ~22%, placed here in the range 20-29%. This decline is suspected to be continuing, owing to current management strategies and the on-going impacts of development in Florida leading to habitat conversion and fire suppression (which causes habitat degradation), compounded by edge effects (Breininger et al. 2009, 2010, Johnson et al. 2011).
Aphelocoma coerulescens was known from scattered localities in 39 of 40 peninsula counties in Florida, U.S.A., but has declined since the mid-19th century and most rapidly since 1950. Populations are now considered to have declined to less than 10% of pre-European settlement numbers (Boughton and Bowman 2011) and the species is now possibly removed from 13 of its original 39 counties (USFWS 2019). The current range is local and fragmented from Flagler, Marion and Levy counties to Collier, Glades and Palm Beach. The breeding population was 4,000 pairs in 1993, but has continued to decline by >25% since then (Boughton and Bowman 2011) and is now estimated at c.3,000 family groups (Boughton and Bowman 2011, R. Bowman in litt. 2012). In many areas, average group size is below three, and this could be having an impact on breeding success, as the presence of nest helpers can be the most important factor in nest-survival analyses (e.g. Niederhauser and Bowman 2014).
It is entirely restricted to scrub and shrubby flatwoods (a xeromorphic shrub community dominated by a layer of oak Quercus spp. rarely more than 2 m high). Ground cover is sparse with bare sand patches for foraging and acorn-caching. It rarely uses scrub with more than 15% pine cover. Habitat structure and composition are maintained by frequent fires, and optimal habitat occurs 5-15 years post-fire. Fire frequency for coastal scrub should be greater than that for inland scrub as open sandy areas do not persist in coastal areas for more than a few years (D. Breininger in litt. 2012). It is permanently territorial, with habitat fragmentation decreasing territory size and resulting in increased predation and reduced reproductive success (USFWS 2019). Dispersal is inhibited by more than 8 km of open, non-scrub habitat or 1 km of forest. First brood eggs are laid from March-June, and true second brood attempts are rare. Some nests benefit from helpers, which increase reproductive success (Franzreb 2007). Nests typically occur 1-2 m above the ground in shrubby oaks, and contain clutch sizes of between 1-5 (typically 3-4) eggs (USFWS 2019). It feeds mainly on arthropods, acorns and small vertebrates (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996, G. E. Woolfenden in litt. 1998, USFWS 2019).
Fire suppression in remaining habitat has been identified as a major continuing threat because it causes scrub to overgrow and pine density to increase, rendering habitat unsuitable. Declines on lands specifically protected for the species are largely the result of reduced habitat quality, caused by disrupted fire regimes (Breininger et al. 1999, 2006, 2009, 2010); suitable Florida Scrub-Jay habitat is thought to have declined by 22% between 1999-2012 (USFWS 2019). In addition, extensive habitat fragmentation has led to a high degree of genetic differentiation (Coulon et al. 2008) and additional land protection to increase connectivity within existing genetic units is likely necessary to prevent further fragmentation and loss of genetic diversity (Coulon et al. 2010, 2012). Reduced immigration into one of the largest remaining populations at Archbold Biological Station has resulted in increased levels of inbreeding and decreased fitness via inbreeding depression, emphasizing the importance of maintaining population connectivity (Chen et al. 2016 ). At Archbold, there is evidence of inbreeding depression at multiple life stages, including hatching failure, juvenile survival, and breeder lifespan (Chen et al. 2016). Housing developments and citrus-groves have replaced much suitable habitat (G. E. Woolfenden in litt. 1998). The rate of development in Florida has increased markedly since the 1960s as the human population almost doubled between 1960 and 1980 (Cox 1987). Direct human disturbance and feral cats affect the increasing number of territories adjacent to housing (Cox 1987), which can have the knock-on impact of reduced nesting success in suburban areas (see Niederhauser and Bowman 2014), and these individuals can also have reduced egg viability too (see Aldredge et al. 2012). Birds in roadside territories are frequently killed by vehicles (Dreschel et al. 1990, Mumme et al. 2000). Several species of snake, bird and mammal are native predators (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996). Nocturnal predators, including yellow rat snakes Elaphe obsoleta, are a particular threat since breeding birds do not appear to be vigilant to, or defend against, nocturnal predators and brooding females are also at risk from being killed (Carter et al. 2007). Hatching failure has been linked to below-average rainfall during the breeding season (Wilcoxen et al. 2011) and so droughts are likely to pose a threat to the species. The recent spread of West Nile virus to Florida may pose a threat to the species (Chu et al. 2003). An observation of nest-predation by invasive fire ants Solenopsis invicta was reported in south-central Florida in 2009 (Wilcoxen and Rensel 2009) and may be a threat to the reproductive success of the species. Climate change may pose a threat to the species through both increased drought and hurricane frequency and intensity, and sea level rise (USFWS 2019).
Conservation Actions Underway
The species has been studied since 1969 and this continues, especially at and near the Archbold Biological Station (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996, G. E. Woolfenden in litt. 1998). A long-term study at Kennedy Space Center has been running for >20 years, focusing on linking demography to habitat management decision making (e.g. Breininger et al. 2009). A species recovery plan was published in 1990 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1990) and the species is included in the Multi-Species Recovery Plan for South Florida (1999). There are now 12 populations of colour-banded jays that are monitored (R. Bowman in litt. 2003, USFWS 2019). Habitat management by burning is still too site-specific (R. Bowman in litt. 2003). Supplementary feeding at Archbold Biological Station in south-central Florida from 2000 to 2007 resulted in a marked improvement of reproductive output (Schoech et al. 2008), which has potential impacts for local populations as well as potential translocated populations. A lot of habitat that is important for this species has been put into conservation lands although much of this is fragmented (K. Bibb and T. Mecklenborg in litt. 2016). Currently there are 139,716 ha of conserved land, which equates to ~78% of potential remaining scrub habitat in peninsular Florida (USFWS 2019). Translocation efforts are currently underway in an attempt to rescue a small coastal population (N. Chen et al. 2020); 121 individuals had been translocated to conservation lands by 2015 (USFWS 2019). Education and outreach projects have increased interest in the Florida Scrub-Jay and promoted understanding of the management actions required to promote their long-term persistence (USFWS 2019).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor the population (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996, G. E. Woolfenden in litt. 1998). Regularly determine the extent of habitat (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996, G. E. Woolfenden in litt. 1998). Research the causes of variation in birth rates, death rates, and spatial/temporal movement patterns, in both natural and human-modified habitats (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996, G. E. Woolfenden in litt. 1998). Maintain long-term ecological studies (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996, G. E. Woolfenden in litt. 1998, Breininger et al. 2009). Acquire and actively manage a protected-area network (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996, G. E. Woolfenden in litt. 1998). Improvements in controlled fire management are needed to improve habitat quality so that populations don’t continue to decline (D. Breininger in litt. 2016); this might include burning patches of habitat based on habitat states and predicted trajectories (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996, G. E. Woolfenden in litt. 1998, Breininger et al. 2010, 2014). Translocations of individuals in areas most at risk from habitat destruction could be used to supplement other populations (D. Breininger in litt. 2016).
27-31 cm. Medium-sized, blue and grey jay with long tail. Adults have blue wings, tail and head with white supercilium and black facial patch, grey mantle, whitish underparts, black legs and bill. Juvenile similar with blue in head replaced by brown tinged grey. Similar spp. Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata in flight, but has white in wings and tail. Voice Variety of calls, with marked variation locally even over short distances, including rasping creep and sweet, loose ch-leep. Hints Most easily found by voice as noisy groups move furtively from bush to bush.
Text account compilers
Bibb, K., Bird, J., Bowman, R., Breininger, D., Butcher, G., Capper, D., Chen, N., Coulon, A., Derhé, M., Harding, M., Mecklenborg, T., Pople, R., Wege, D., Westrip, J.R.S. & Woolfenden, G.
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Aphelocoma coerulescens. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 17/08/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 17/08/2022.