Volusia County is one of the few places in Florida where people can get up close and personal with the scrub jay, a threatened species of bird native to Florida, but particularly picky about its habitat.
These jays live in Florida scrub habitat, a sandy forested area that is hard to come by. One place where this habitat is protected is Lyonia Environmental Center in Deltona, a 360-acre scrub habitat home to scrub jays.
Once destined to be a shopping center, the land was rescued for conservation. Former Volusia County employee and now-West Volusia Audubon Society Vice President of Conservation Stephen Kintner helped enshrine the habitat adjacent to the Deltona library for the birds.
“We convinced the world it would be better as a wildlife refuge,” Kintner said. “At the end of the day, the developer told me it was far more important to have scrub jays there than a shopping center.”
Scrub jays are intelligent birds, Kintner told The Beacon. They can recognize faces and count. They have a level of intelligence comparable to that of a human 2-year-old.
They even have a complex system of communication that helps protect their habitats against would-be predators.
Special calls can alert nearby nests to threats. The tweeted distress calls can even allow other birds to identify how serious a threat is. Is an incoming hawk on its way to devour scrub-jay babies? A specific call can mobilize a whole fleet of scrub jays to take on the much-larger hawk.
The bird and its habitat may be threatened, but Kintner hopes with continued education and people coming face-to-face with the birds, more people will want to fight for scrub jays and other threatened species.
Protecting birds like the scrub jays is pivotal to ensuring the health of the environment. Healthy birds can serve as a canary in the coal mine for healthy ecosystems.
“If birds are doing well,” Kintner said, “then the environment is doing well.”
If a push from Pinellas County state Sen. Jeff Brandes is successful in the state Legislature, the scrub jay may replace the mockingbird as Florida’s state bird.
Brandes has filed a bill in the upcoming legislative session, SCR 324, that would give the scrub jay even more recognition on the state level.