In the early 1980’s, as the sleepy Sebastian town began to boom with development, the USFWS recognized that impacts were threatening the local population of Federally Threatened Florida scrub-jays. A Habitat Conservation Plan was created by
Indian River County, the City of and USFWS to protect valuable scrub habitat, manage for the protected birds and allow development. Nearly 11 years after the plan was approved and management began on select parcels, totaling about 600 acres, the birds are thriving and are doing better than anyone may have ever thought possible. Sebastian
The core parcel for management is quite literally a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the center of town and directly adjacent to Sebastian’s City Hall. 407 acres are now open to the public at the North Sebastian Conservation Area with public access including parking, restrooms, boardwalks, benches and 10 miles of trails. The most spectacular thing, however, is the response of the scrub-jays to the restoration that has taken place. In only 11 years, the property has gone from 2 families of scrub-jays to 8, making this a huge success story for the local population of jays.
In the spring, the conservation area is beaming with activity from the scrub-jays. Territorial skirmishes, sentinel’s calls to alert their family of predators, pair bonding and establishing nests creates a flurry of activity that any birder would be thrilled about. Because the Florida scrub-jay has a most unique family dynamic where helpers stay with the parents for one to two years after fledging, the families can be anywhere from the single mating pair to 6-8 birds. In the summer to early fall, the conservation area can seem almost chaotic with newly fledged birds and helpers exploring nearly every inch of the conservation area.
The jays at the North Sebastian Conservation Area begin pair bonding in late January to early February, and begin building nests in the third and fourth weeks of February, making Valentine’s Day a dream come true for the avid birder. If you’re already an avid birder, you’ll fall in love with the birding opportunities in Sebastian, cross-my-heart!
by Beth Powell, Conservation Lands Manager, Indian River County