Help! My lot is occupied by scrub jays!
Somebody is watching you! It is not necessarily that cute little blue bird on your property; it may be his big brother – “the eye of the Law.” So, what is going on?
Let’s assume you fell in love with a nice wooded lot. You signed the contract not noticing that there was a short note at the bottom of the contract saying that “the property may be in a Scrub Jay zone.” So what? Scrub Jays are those friendly little songbirds, right? What can be so horrible about Scrub Jays? You may think, dear reader. Well, you may be in for a surprise.
Let us shed light on some Scrub Jay basics first: Scrub Jays are one of Florida’s friendliest songbirds you will ever meet. Although wild animals they easily make friends with human beings. Pick up an acorn or bring some peanuts and show it to them when they are around, and at least one “brave” bird will land on your hand to check it out. At certain golf courses, where families of those highly intelligent birds live, they are sometimes so bold that they land on a person’s head or shoulder in hopes of a treat. They are fearless little guys.
Scrub Jays exist only in Florida. Because much of their habitat has been transformed for agricultural or urban use, the Scrub Jay population is shrinking dramatically. The shrinking of their population is even so serious that in 1987 the Florida Scrub Jay was
classified as a “threatened species”. Now the birds are protected under State and Federal Law …and that makes really a difference. Yes, we told you already – Big brother is now protecting the little birds! Who is the big brother? The State of Florida and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. Yes, it can’t get any bigger.
There is a little more you need to know before we are digging deeper into that little surprise we promised you. Scrub Jays live in a highly specialized environment. Tall trees, preferably oak trees, cover about two-thirds of their territory. The ground cover is no higher than a few inches with spot of bare ground.
Frequent wildfires keep the vegetation at that level. Their food source changes during the year: crunchy insects in spring and summer. How yummy! Juicy frogs, tasty snakes and
gourmet lizards are on their menu during the winter time. They also eat seeds and berries when available. Because of their very specialized needs, the territory of a Scrub Jay family has an average size between five and 50 acres. That is a lot for such a small animal, isn’t it?
There is one more important fact you also need to know: because of the environmental stress, the birds are experiencing, they are not anymore spread out along the coastal line from the north to the south. There are only clusters of isolated communities remaining, and it is very important to know the protected locations of those clusters.
Now, back to the beginning. You bought your lot already and now you want to build a little retreat for your family. If your lot is in an existing Scrub Jay territory, you can easily run out of luck. First case: There is an active Scrub Jay family residing on your property? Your clearing and building permit may be denied if relocation of the birds is impossible at this time. In some cases, you can buy an adjacent property just for the birds, to get a clearing/building permit. Crazy? Maybe, maybe not. At least, you might get a permit at all because the birds can keep their own little piece of land. However, you probably didn’t intend to buy two lots, did you?
Second case: You are not quite sure if there is a Scrub Jay family at all? For you all birds appear to be blue. Okay, have a Florida Scrub Jay survey done. That is a complicated process and will probably cost you several hundred dollars, but it is the only way to find out if you have guests on your property.
If there are birds detected on your property the county will deny the permit or will issue a permit with strings attached. Strings? What strings? Well, you may have to build in a certain way to protect as much of the Scrub Jay habitat as possible, ….and annual monitoring of nests and annual reporting may be part of the permit condition. You are a professional bird watcher now! That’s probably something you always wanted to be. Right?
If the survey doesn’t detect any Scrub Jays, although you are in a Scrub Jay area, you are a lucky dog. The county may issue at least a temporary permit. Sighh! But hold your horses! If you are not building within a year or so, your permit may be suspended and the whole process has to start all over again. How nice!
If Scrub Jays took advantage of you while you were dragging your feet, and they are now
verifiably nesting on your lot, the permit may get revoked. So, if your survey says, “clear to go”….you go! Start building as soon as you can before the conditions are changing again. Scrub Jays can fly!
Is the Scrub Jay issue a problem everywhere in Florida? Of course not. As mentioned before, there are only pockets of Scrub Jay populations left, however, when you are not sure whether the property you are buying is in a Scrub Jay Zone or not, ask the county. Better safe than sorry.
Some people say that building in a Scrub Jay area is too costly and not worth it. We don’t know. Our goal is not to discourage you; we just want to point out that building in a Scrub Jay area can really become a very complex undertaking. This blog merely scratches
the surface of the topic, though. Consulting county officials and a lawyer before signing a purchase contract could be the wisest decision you ever made in your lifetime.
This blog is not presented, offered or intended as professional or expert advice. Before you make any legal, financial or other decision based on the information obtained from our blog you need to get professional advice first.