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First Use of an Anthropogenic Nest Site by the Florida Scrub-Jay
Karl E. Miller

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 14, Issue 4 (2015): N64–N66

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2015 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 14, No. 4 N64 K.E. Miller First Use of an Anthropogenic Nest Site by the Florida Scrub-Jay Karl E. Miller* Abstract - I report here the first documentation of Aphelocoma coerulescens (Florida Scrub-Jay) nesting in a human-made structure. A pair of color-banded Florida Scrub-Jays built a nest atop an air compressor, which was sheltered from the elements by wooden latticework and a plywood roof, in a suburban neighborhood in Charlotte County, FL. More attention is warranted towards the study of nest-site selection and nesting success of Florida Scrub-Jays in the suburbs and other atypical habitats where they commonly occur. The non-migratory Aphelocoma coerulescens (Bosc) (Florida Scrub-Jay) is endemic to peninsular Florida and inhabits Quercus (oak)-dominated scrub, a fire-maintained shrub community found only on well-drained sandy soils. The species is threatened with extinction because of habitat degradation from fire suppression and habitat conversion to other land uses (Fitzpatrick et al. 1991, Stith 1999, Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996). Florida Scrub-Jay populations have declined by more than 90% since the late 1800s (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996), with a 25–50% decline from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s alone (Stith et al. 1996). Populations continue to decline on many managed lands throughout Florida (Boughton and Bowman 2011). Approximately 30% of the statewide Florida Scrub-Jay population occurs in suburban landscapes (Stith 1999), but long-term research in these habitats has been limited. Suburbs on the Lake Wales Ridge on the central peninsula function as population sinks for Florida Scrub-Jays (Bowman 1998). In contrast, recruitment can exceed mortality in suburban landscapes on the Atlantic coast when the remaining scrub patches are managed under optimal fire-management regimes (Breininger et al. 2003, 2006). Although Florida Scrub-Jays readily nest in suburban yards near human dwellings (e.g., Bowman 1998; K.E. Miller, pers. observ.), there is no record of the species nesting in buildings or other human-made structures. All documented nests have been in shrubs or trees, most typically less than 2 m off the ground in low, dense vegetation (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1996). While studying the demographics of Florida Scrub-Jays in suburban neighborhoods in Charlotte County in southwest Florida, I documented a nest built on machinery located in a human-made structure. I report here the details of this nest and its fate and discuss potential interpretations of the phenomenon. On the morning of 17 May 2004, my field assistant and I discovered a color-banded (black/USGS-orange/orange) female Florida Scrub-Jay building a nest located atop an air compressor along the exterior north wall of a business operated by an electrical contractor. The nest site was sheltered from the elements by wooden latticework and a plywood roof ~2.2 m above the ground (Fig. 1). The nest itself was located 2.0 m above ground between metal flanges that protruded a few centimeters from the top of the assembly. Microhabitat within 5 m of the supporting structure consisted of equal parts concrete, bare ground, and turf grass (K.E. Miller, pers. observ.). Scattered commercial buildings and scattered residential dwellings characterized the immediate neighborhood, and there were remnant patches of oak scrub in vacant lots. *Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, 1105 Southwest Williston Road, Gainesville, FL 32601; Karl.Miller@MyFWC.com. Manuscript Editor: Frank R. Moore Notes of the Southeastern Naturalist, Issue 14/4, 2015 N65 2015 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 14, No. 4 K.E. Miller On 17 May, the female was weaving fine plant fibers (Sabal palmetto [Walt.] [Cabbage Palm]) into the nest cup, while the male (black/USGS-orange/light pink) perched ~30 m away. On the morning of 25 May, the inner lining of the nest was complete but it contained no eggs. The breeding female quickly approached us and vocalized in an agitated manner when we inspected the nest. At the same time, we observed a Felis catus (L.) (Domestic Cat) on the ground below the nest-supporting structure. On the mornings of 31 May and 2 June, the nest was empty and the breeding female did not approach us. Any eggs that might have been laid in this nest were either depredated or were aban doned. There were no indications that these Florida Scrub-Jays were inexperienced breeders. Both adults were aged as “after-hatch-year” when banded during the previous year. Our observation represents the pair’s third, and last known, nesting attempt of the season. We monitored their previous nest, which was located 48 m west of the air compressor in a Myrica cerifera (L.) (Wax Myrtle) bush and was depredated sometime between 7 May and 11 May. The breeding female disappeared during late summer, but the breeding male remained on this territory and successfully raised offspring with a new mate in subsequent years (K.E.Miller, pers. observ.). Regardless of whether eggs were laid in this nest, use of this structure for nesting is a highly unusual phenomenon of ecological interest. Only 2 of 9 jay species in North America Figure 1. Florida Scrub-Jay nest built on an air-compressor assembly inside a wooden shed, Charlotte County, FL. 2015 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 14, No. 4 N66 K.E. Miller are known to use buildings or other human-made structures as nest sites. Cyanocitta cristata (L.) (Blue Jay) and Cyanocitta stelleri (Gmelin) (Steller’s Jay) are reported to nest occasionally “in buildings” (Bent 1946, Smith et al. 2013, Walker et al. 2014), but few details are available. The behavior reported here may represent (a) a novel phenomenon for this species, or (b) a rare phenomenon that has heretofore escaped documentation. Although either explanation is possible, it is notable that many thousands of Florida Scrub-Jay nests have been located and monitored by dozens of investigators during the last 4 decades, and nesting in human structures has not been previously recorded. However, monitoring of Florida Scrub-Jay nests has been conducted primarily within oak scrub and rarely in atypical habitats such as suburban neighborhoods. More attention is warranted towards the study and characterization of nest sites in suburban areas where the species frequently occurs. Nesting in vegetation located near human activity can afford Blue Jays greater nesting success (Tarvin and Smith 1995). Research is needed to understand the influence on Florida Scrub-Jay reproductive success of nesting in various substrates near human activity. Acknowledgments. I thank Michelle Wilcox for assistance with locating and monitoring this nest. S. Schoech reviewed an earlier draft of the manuscript. This research was supported by funding from Florida’s Nongame Wildlife Trust Fund. Literature Cited Bent, A.C. 1946. Life histories of North American jays, crows, and titmice. US National Museum Bulletin 191:118–128. Boughton, R., and R. Bowman. 2011. Statewide assessment of Florida Scrub-Jays on managed areas: A comparison of current populations to the results of the 1992–93 survey. Final report to US Fish and Wildlife Service, Jacksonville, FL. Bowman, R. 1998. Population dynamics, demography, and contributions to metapopulation dynamics by suburban populations of the Florida Scrub-Jay, Aphelocoma coerulescens. Final Report to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee, FL. Breininger, D.R., B. Toland, D. Oddy, M. Legare, J. Elseroad, and G. Carter. 2003. Biological criteria for the recovery of Florida Scrub-Jay populations on public lands in Brevard County and Indian River County. Final Report to US Fish and Wildlife Service, Jacksonville, FL. Breininger, D.R., B. Toland, D.M. Oddy, and M.L. Legare. 2006. Land-cover characterizations and Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) population dynamics. Biological Conservation 128:169–181. Fitzpatrick, J.W., M.T. Kopeny, and G.E. Woolfenden. 1991. Ecology and development-related habitat requirements of the Florida Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens coerulescens). Nongame Wildlife Program, Technical Report No. 8. Florida Game and Fresh-Water Fish Commission, Tallahassee, FL. Smith, K.G., K.A. Tarvin, and G.E. Woolfenden. 2013. Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata). No. 469, In A. Poole (Ed.). The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY. Available online at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/469. Accessed 1 July 2015. Stith, B.M. 1999. Metapopulation dynamics and landscape ecology of the Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens). Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. Tarvin, K.A., and K.G. Smith. 1995. Microhabitat factors influencing predation and success of suburban Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata nests. Journal of Avian Biology 26:296–304. Walker, L.E., E. Greene, W. Davison, and V.R. Muehter. 2014. Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri). No. 343, In A. Poole (Ed.). The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY. Available online at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/343. Accessed 1 July 2015. Woolfenden, G.E., and J.W. Fitzpatrick. 1996. Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens). Pp. 1–28, In A. Poole and F. Gill (Eds.). The Birds of North America. The American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, DC.