For the Birds Radio Program: Florida Scrub-Jay: Number 600!

Original Air Date: April 6, 1999 (estimated date)

Laura hit a major milestone on her trip to Florida. Why was #600 so important to her, and why was her #600 bird such a perfect one?

Audio missing


(Year certain but not date.)

I started birding almost 25 years ago, on March 2, 1975, and from the moment I saw my first bird, a Black-capped Chickadee, and wrote it down on my official life list, I have yearned to get that list up to 600 species. I picked the number 600 because I found a story about birders joining the “600 Club,” an exclusive group of elite birders who have seen over 600 species on their life list in North America north of the Mexican border, and it sounded like a wonderful goal. Nowadays the club isn’t exclusive anymore. There are still a lot of birders with lists over 600 who know every one of those birds well, but some don’t know a hawk from a handsaw. They see their birds on tours to the best birding places, led by experts who point to and identify every bird, and their lists are more a reflection of their ability to pay for high-priced tours than their ability or knowledge. And nowadays many birders who pass the 500, 600, and 700 milestones publish their totals for the American Birding Association. Even though I’m a member, I’ve never felt comfortable in that kind of competition. I’ve been moderately obsessed with my lifelist goal, but it’s still a personal milestone that has nothing to do with any other birder’s lists or goals. I don’t mind the competition for those who find it fun, and I don’t mind birders who follow leaders here and there and never stop to learn their backyard birds. People give to and take from our hobbies what we want.

I remember all my milestone birds. My #100 was the Tennessee Warbler, one of the drabbest of all warblers; #200 was the Least Tern; #300 the Black-shouldered Kite; #400 Franklin’s Gull; and #500, the Seaside Sparrow. The most exciting thing for me about hitting 600 was the particular bird I was looking at, right at the end of National Blue Jay Awareness Month. Because that even rarer than once-in-a-blue-moon bird for my lifelist turned out to be a blue jay—at least a Blue Jay of a kind. It was the Florida Scrub-Jay. This species has a bluish back, wings, and tail, and the head is softer gray, looking a lot like our good old Gray Jay from straight on.

The Florida Scrub-Jay is known for its tameness, and my particular pair of lifers flew right up to me and looked into my eyes from only about three feet away. Then they checked out Russ and our kids, and even our family mascot Piggy. This little plush puppet that has been Tommy’s since he was five years old, and still comes on all our vacations and trips had gotten tossed up into a tree branch, and the jays flew right up to him and tweaked him, perhaps to see if he was alive. That was a first, too.

All in all, it seemed like a miracle that the bird that would forever grace the most coveted spot on my whole lifelist would be a jay, and for it to be two amazingly tame individuals made it about the coolest lifer I’ve ever seen. Come January 1, I’m going to be starting my lifelist from scratch, as my new millennium list, and I’m going to hurry down to Florida to make sure I see this endearing species a lot sooner my second time around.