Florida Scrub-Jay at Lake June-in-Winter Scrub

A view of the head of a blue Florida Scrub Jay.

Many of the birds at Lake June-in-Winter Scrub Preserve State Park capture our attention, but none is as entertaining as the gregarious Florida scrub-jay. Visitors who hear their distinct rasping calls and spot a family group descending on a scrub oak will be fascinated by the strong family bonds and interactions within the group. Scrub-jays engage in “cooperative” or “communal” breeding in which more than two birds of the same species provide care in rearing the young from one nest.

Only 3% of bird species throughout the world are cooperative breeders. Some jays within a family assist the adult breeding pair with the care of nestlings, while others act as sentinels alerting their group to predators. They are bold, highly intelligent birds with distinctive calls that inform the group of a circling hawk, peering owls, or snakes approaching on the ground. 

A view of a blue Florida Scrub Jay.

Lake June-in-Winter Scrub is comprised of 845 acres and a part of the Lake Wales Ridge, whose ancient islands were created by shallow seas rising and receding, separating plants and animals from related populations so they evolved characteristics unique to their isolated habitats.

As much of Florida’s scrub habitats were used for citrus farming or housing, this ecosystem which is also referred to as “Florida’s desert,” is one of the rarest and most endangered natural communities in the state. The Florida scrub-jay is closely tied to this special landscape as are other rare and endemic species.  

Optimal scrub-jay habitat must have low, uniform oak thickets for nesting in proximity to bare, open sandy patches for acorn-caching. A family of jays require a home territory of approximately 20 acres. Because scrub environments exist as isolated pockets, young jays are known to remain with the family waiting to inherit a territory.

Park staff, working together with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Ridge Rangers and other volunteers, have removed sand pines and conducted prescribed fires to restore scrub-jay habitat, establish new territories and maintain breeding populations. 

Jays may be sighted along the fence line of the northwest boundary adjacent to Daffodil Road as well as the entrance drive.

Walking along the drive or hiking into the interior allows visitors the opportunity to observe Florida scrub-jays in their natural habitat.

To become acquainted with these delightful, fascinating birds, plan a visit to Lake June!