After we finished Blackpoint Drive this past Saturday, we drove out to Scrub Ridge Trail to look for Scrub Jays. I first visited this area in 2010, and during my first view visits, I would usually find them, but they seemed to take no interest in me. A couple years ago, though, all that began to change. On most of my visits now, there are always a couple jays that will approach me.
This past Saturday, one came so close to me that I had to back up to get a photo (the minimum focusing distance of my lens is about 10 ft). The jay was literally chasing me down the trail away from my car (and into the area where the mosquitoes are the most fierce). What’s happened? Well, a couple years ago, I saw someone feeding the Scrub Jays here.
I don’t know how often this happens, but I know it does happen at least on occasion, and I’m positive that feeding the Scrub Jays has contributed to the Scrub Jays becoming tame enough to beg for food from photographers who just want to observe and photograph them being Scrub Jays.
Florida Scrub Jays are a threatened species, so it’s against the law to feed them. And this is for at least three good reasons. First, Scrub Jays are highly intelligent birds, and when humans feed them, they learn that humans are a source of food, and they beg for food. The peanuts humans feed them are not as nutritious as the acorns they normally find.
So they end up eating food that’s less healthy for them. Second, scrub jays bury some of the acorns they find to store them for later. Those that the jay does not eventually eat will germinate and become trees–that is, their feeding behavior is part of what maintains the scrub habitat they live in. So we don’t want to disrupt this natural process by giving the jays less reason to cache acorns.
And third, it’s been shown when Scrub Jays are fed by humans, they breed earlier in the year. When this happens, their young are born earlier, before the caterpillars they need to survive are plentiful, and they can become malnurished. So fewer Scrub Jay fledglings live to grow up and beg for food from photographers. Florida Scrub Jays have the best chance for survival if they are allowed to just be Scrub Jays.