Remembering the Scrub Jays of Our Childhood Backyard

A Florida Scrub Jay:

When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I lived on Edgewood Drive in Stuart. My parents were great about teaching us to appreciate, respect and love wildlife. Today, many of our actions would be frowned upon. We fed the animals, and at one time or another, had wild pets. It was wonderful!

This weekend unable to garden trapped inside by relentless rain, I started thinking to myself “what did the ecosystem of my childhood backyard really look like?” That was the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Could I find anything that looked like it today? Does my yard, today, resemble it at all? 

So I took a drive to the old neighborhood.

St Lucie Estates looks a lot the same but our family house has been knocked down and replaced by one much larger. Also every lot is developed. When I was growing up, our house was surrounded by a number of empty lots and as kids we roamed freely.  These undeveloped lots allowed my siblings and I to have native nature right in our “backyard.” 

I racked my brain to think of where I might find a comparable lot to the ones in St Lucie Estates. I wanted to see what plants were on it. What trees. The color of the sand.

I drove east on East Ocean Boulevard.

Near Kingswood Condominium I found one lot that looked a lot like the ones I ran around in as a kid. Although drained and full of invasives, the space held a few recognizables: a sand pine, a stand of sand oaks, yucca, palmettos, prickly pear cactus, and other flowering plants and grasses whose names I never learned.  

Seeing the Kingwood lot brought back a lot of memories and I thought about how this once familiar habitat is basically gone. This rare Florida Scrub has  been covered with shopping malls and subdivisions most sporting heavily fertilized floratam along with a variety of ornamentals.

I wondered why developers just cleared the natives. I am realizing that my childhood home must have been a Florida Scrub environment. For goodness sake, one of our favorite wild friends was the very smart Scrub Jay! We never thought  that our house may have destroyed their favorite bushes. We just smiled and lifted our arms strong and high -palms perfectly flat balancing one nut. Always, they came. So smart! So consistent!

Of course Scrub Jays are now a threatened species whose habitat is considered to be one of the most endangered in the world…

~The location of my childhood backyard.

After getting the photos from Kingwood, I decided to drive north to Jensen to visit Hawk’s Bluff off of Savannah Road. Here I could walk and remember the some of the sights of my childhood. This is one of the few places the Florida Scrub Ecosystem has been saved.

~The wind whistled through the trees. I felt timeless. The rain had brightened the usually muted colors. I sat on the bench. Lake Henderson’s grey and purple reflection resembled a Monet. It was beautiful!

I was alone in my childhood backyard…

I raised my arms above my head, hands upright bent -perfectly flat.

Would a Scrub Jay come to visit?

I held my arms up until I could no longer -putting them down- I got up to walk my adult path.

My little sister, Jenny, proudly feeds a neighborhood Scrub Jay, St Lucie Estates, Edgewood Drive, Stuart, ca.1972. (Family Album)
Cousin Drew Hudson and I feed the Scrub Jays 1972, St Lucie Estates, Stuart, FL (Family Album)

Visit #1 one of the last undeveloped lots near Kingswood Condominium, East Ocean Drive, Stuart, Florida, still reveals native scrub vegetation:

Somehow this cactus garden has grown and survived! Prickly pear is a common scrub plant and a favorite of gopher turtles.
Prickly pear.. Ouch!
Scrub oak and palmetto in a remaining lot off East Ocean Blvd.
A rare sand pine of the Florida Scrub was once prolific requiring fire for pine cones to open and take seed.
Flower of the scrub
Prickly pear in sandy soil with other ground cover

Florida Scrub:

Scrub Jays:


Visit #2 Hawk’s Bluff in Savannas Preserve Park is rare gem of the Florida Scrub landscape and it’s wildlife:

New signs including Scrub Jay and Florida Scrub Habitat signs, Florida Park Service, photo album below from Hawk’s Bluff, 11-3-19




8 thoughts on “Remembering the Scrub Jays of Our Childhood Backyard

  1. Oh, Jacqui, you brought back memories! We lived next to the airport, and the scrub jays would land on our window sills and knock on the glass for us to come out with the goods. We’d appease them with peanuts and sunflower seeds. We also scampered barefoot through sand patches, dodging cacti and sand spurs, playing in the drainage ditch with the guppies, turtles, and snakes. When we moved to Rocky Point in the late 90s, there was a family of scrubbies who lived here. But the last empty lot they lived on was cleared three years ago for a house, and they’ve never returned. I cried watching the bulldozers plow down their last oak homes. You can still find some scrub jays at Jonathon Dickinson. I’m both happy and sad when I see them. Thanks for a lovely article and pictures.

    1. Tara you are such a wonderful friend! We have our childhoods so in common. What a story you tell. I can see it happening. I hope the Scrub Jay family could relocate-somewhere. I was reading that yes Johnathan Dickinson State Park has them and also the Archibold Biological Center in Hendry County but within the SFWMD. I think it’s time to take a trip to Lake Whales.

  2. I just now counted 4 scrub jays in my front yard. I better not tell anyone or criminal state gov. will seize our land. Maby I have scrub jays because if I seen a cat I would set his ass on fire. Cats are killing machines.

  3. Thank you for another great post of the Florida of the past! The current Florida will be changing with 1000 people moving to Florida each day… 😣

    On Mon, Nov 4, 2019 at 11:48 AM Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch wrote:

    > Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch posted: ” When I was a kid, my brother, sister and > I lived on Edgewood Drive in Stuart. My parents were great about teaching > us to appreciate, respect and love wildlife. Today, many of our actions > would be frowned upon. We fed the animals, and at one time or an” >

      1. Excellent piece, Jacqui. Thanks for reminiscing for us, your perspective on our surroundings, and all you do! My next hike in the Savannahs will be so much more informed and interesting, thanks to you!

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