The Florida scrub-jay lives a co-operative lifestyle, with the offspring of each breeding pair usually remaining with the parent birds to ‘help out around the nest’ for at least a year (3) (5). The role of the immature jays is to assist in the feeding of hatchlings and to defend against predators and other territorial scrub-jays (5). These immature helpers are so important that without them, breeding pairs are unable to raise as many young (2) (3). Each Florida scrub-jay pair mates for life and builds a new nest each year between February and March. The nest is made from twigs and palm fibres, and is normally located in a low, dense shrub around one metre off the ground (3) (5). The female lays around three to four eggs, out of which the naked and vulnerable young hatch after about 18 days. Whilst the female tends to the nest, the male forages for food for the nestlings and its mate, and defends the nest, usually with the help of last years’ offspring. The nestlings fledge after another 18 days, but continue to be nurtured for up to three months, after which they remain with the parent birds to learn crucial skills, whilst helping to protect the group (3).
The Florida scrub-jay is a truly omnivorous species, consuming everything from acorns and berries, through to snakes, frogs and young birds, with a variety of arthropods in between (2) (3). Such a diverse range of food items requires a number of different foraging techniques, including picking insects off plants, hoarding acorns in the ground, scaring prey out of vegetation, and even pulling ticks from the backs of livestock and deer (3) (5). In fact, so comfortable is the Florida scrub-jay in acquiring food from a mammalian perch that, given the prospect of food, it will happily alight on a human hand, arm or head (3) (5).