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Banding Together

A volunteer project shows the endangered Florida scrub jay may be making a comeback

The beautiful and elusive Florida scrub jay is the only bird whose  entire habitat is restricted to Florida. Designated as a threatened species, fewer than 6,000 remain.

The beautiful and elusive Florida scrub jay is the only bird whose entire habitat is restricted to Florida. Designated as a threatened species, fewer than 6,000 remain.

In the early 1800s, a young man on a Pennsylvania estate began wondering whether the migratory birds nesting there returned each year. He knew that they were the same species, but he wondered, were they the same individuals, returning to nest in a familiar place?

His question helped lead to the development of an important technique in the study of birds — one that is being used now to help a bird unique to Florida, right here in Indian River County.

In what was then a novel experiment, that young man in Pennsylvania began marking the birds, tying a silver thread around one leg of each one. The following spring, when the birds returned, he was excited to see that they were wearing silver threads. This proved that the migrants were returning to their familiar nesting grounds.

The young man was John James Audubon. He was actually not the first to band a bird; the practice began, not with ornithology, but with falconry. During the late 16th century, it was said that King Henry IV of France lost a peregrine falcon, which was found — and recognized by its band — on the island of Malta, just one day later. However, Audubon pioneered the practice as a way to study birds scientifically.