Jays, Crows, and Lark

Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Blue Jay is an extremely common species throughout the county and a widespread breeder that can be found in any season. You can observe a Blue Jay at virtually any birding location or local park with the exception of perhaps Huguenot Memorial Park (where they can occur but are not reliable). Any trip to Fort George Island, Reddie Point Preserve, Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park, or Theodore Roosevelt Area should yield them. It is not commonly recognized that Blue Jays migrate in numbers through northeast Florida, but outings in late September or early October will certainly support the notion when their abundance is much higher than normal.

Florida Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma coerulescens
In 1932, Howell noted the distribution of this species occurring from the “mouth of the St. Johns River south” (p. 339). On 8 April 1931, a nest in Jacksonville Beach was raided for the eggs, which were collected and sent to a museum – appalling treatment of the species by today’s standards. Then in 1943, Grimes lamented that in the “past ten years we have lost the Florida jay” (one can’t help but wonder if the irony of stealing their eggs some twelve years prior occurred to him). He went on to describe a small population of six to eight pair along a narrow area of coastal scrub habitat, presumably along what is now known as Atlantic Beach (Grimes, 1943, p. 17). The exact date of their extirpation from the county isn’t documented, but based on Grimes’ notes it is sometime in 1940 or 1941 (perhaps collecting eggs and disrupting their breeding a decade earlier wasn’t so wise). There was one Scrub-Jay reported on the 1948 Christmas Bird Count, but no further details are available.

There were a couple reports of Scrub-Jay in the 1970’s: one reported by Peggy Powell in Ponte Vedra Beach 6 April 1973  (Kale, 1973) and another by Bob Loftin who remarked that an individual at the University of North Florida on 27 April 1978 was the first seen in the county in six years (Kale, 1978). There are no known reports since.

American Crow  Corvus brachyrhynchos
American Crow occurs in the county in all seasons, but I believe this species is widely over-reported with the advent of eBird. The problem begins with eBird filters being set at a county level, which allows for American Crow to be listed as an expected species at locations where they are much less likely to occur. I would simply suggest that they are in fact a much less abundant species (compared to Fish Crow) in the county, and to exercise caution and some diligence when listening for them.

Fish Crow  Corvus ossifragus
Fish Crow is by far the predominant crow species in Duval County and the one you are most likely to encounter on the majority of your birding outings in the area. They are very abundant in all seasons, with their numbers concentrating up and down the St. Johns River and at the coastal locations. The earliest breeding record is known to be 1 May 1930 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994).

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris
There are but a handful of reported Horned Lark observations in Duval County. The first is of two birds recorded at what I believe today is Huguenot Memorial Park on 20 January 1968 (Stevenson, 1968). The second report is from Mayport where one was photographed from November 1972 through 3 February 1973 (Woolfenden, 1973). From 11-24 November 1973 Bob Loftin and Noel Wamer observed one at an indeterminate location (Stevenson, 1973), and the fourth report comes from 29 December 1974 at Huguenot Memorial Park (Hintermister). Stevenson (1975) noted that five birds wintered at Huguenot Memorial Park 1974-75, and an immature was photographed there on 2 November 1980 (Atherton & Atherton, 1981).  The most recent report is of one calling over Huguenot Memorial Park on 23 October 1999 by Noel Wamer (Pranty, 2000).

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