By Guest Blogger, Fran Palmeri
Known for their friendly and inquisitive nature and bright blue color, the scrub jay reminds me of fire. At Oscar Scherer State Park, they often “drop in” -I’ll be engrossed photographing a wildflower and a bird will land on my head. But that's not where the fire starts.
The jays risk being picked off by predators like hawks and only feel comfortable nesting in dense thickets of tiny scrub oaks that are only about eight feet tall. They live in cooperative family groups. Posted on top of a tree, one acts as a sentry warning of danger. Young birds help raise new members of the family. Scrub jays eat the small acorns of the oaks and cache them for future use. One bird can bury up to 1,500 acorns a season.
This is where fire comes in. Scrubby oak flatwoods depend on fire to renourish the soil and open the area to sunlight, which promotes new growth of grasses, wildflowers, shrubs --and scrub oaks from the acorns the jays buried. In the days before housing developments and office complexes, lightning did the job, but today land managers must start prescribed burns.
At first, burning horrified me but I learned that in times of fire, animals escape harm by taking shelter in underground burrows or flyomg to safety. When I saw the green explosion of growth in the days and months following a burn, I was convinced fire did more good than harm. No fire, no scrub oaks, no scrub jays.