Scrub Jays and How They Can Ruin Your Day

Do you know what a scrub jay is? If you’re looking for Florida land for sale or are thinking about buying land in Florida, you need to read this. 

We buy and sell a lot of land in Florida, and one of the things you need to know about land in Florida is that in certain parts of the state, you will come across scrub jays. Looks harmless, doesn’t it? This little bird could ruin your day, and your entire property purchase. 

What's a Scrub Jay and How it Can Affect Your Land Deal

So, what is a scrub jay? It’s a tiny bird, about 10 inches in length, and it only weighs about 80 grams. They’re the less attractive cousin of the blue jay. They emit this annoying little squawk, it’s not the most welcoming noise. We’re going to focus on scrub jays, but first, let’s start at the beginning. (If you’re looking for a Florida land buying checklist, you can find one here 🙂 )

Quick Overview – Why Buy Land?

Investing in land and buying land is not a well-understood concept. Most people don’t know for sure how land buying works. And even fewer people understand how investing in land is a smart strategic move for diversifying your portfolio. You don’t want to be one of these people.

No one is talking about why land is a great investment. That presents you with a fantastic opportunity.

Here are 3 big reasons why people are buying land:

  • Land is a finite resource – there’s only so much of it! 
  • Land is a tangible resource, it can’t disappear like stock or shares.
  • Land is affordable! You can owner finance any of our properties for sale.

If you’re looking for more, here are 9 more reasons why land is such a great investment.

So, now that you’re convinced buying land is a great idea (*wink*), you’ll be happy to know that you don’t need a realtor or broker, and there isn’t a mountain of paperwork to go through.

Questions to Ask Before You Buy Land

At Compass Land USA, we do extensive due diligence on all properties before we purchase them. If you decide to try and purchase a property yourself, you should start your research and due diligence process with the following 15 questions (you can find more in-depth explanation of the questions and why they’re important here):

  1. What is the Chain of Title? In other words, do you know who the owner is? To determine if the property has a clear and concise title chain, you should always start with asking the seller to send you a copy of the deed. If they don’t have the deed on hand, you can check on the county’s website for the deed history. 
  2. What are Property Back Taxes? Once you’ve concluded who owns the parcel, your next step is to confirm the amount of back taxes, liens, or debts owed on the property (if any).
  3. Is the Property in an HOA or POA? When you buy land, it’s important to know if the property you are going to purchase is part of an HOA/POA because they usually have an annual fee and their own restrictions and property use rules to be aware of. 
  4. What is Property Zoning? Is the lot buildable? What other construction is planned or possible on the surrounding land? Is this property agricultural, residential or commercial?
  5. What Can You Use the Land For? The most common classifications of vacant land are recreational, residential, and undeveloped. It’s pretty important to follow the zoning requirements and HOA/POA rules.
  6. Does the Property Have Utilities? It’s not common for vacant and rural properties to have utilities. If the property is part of a developed subdivision, chances are it will have access to at least power and water, but there will be a connection fee for activating them.
  7. What Property Taxes do You Pay? Land is less expensive to hold over a long-term than most other real estate assets, like townhomes or apartment buildings. You still have to check the amount of annual property taxes before you buy it. You as the owner will still be responsible for property taxes. 
  8. Does the Land Have Common Facilities? It’s rare, but sometimes there are common facilities (water, septic, road, etc.), or common property that the homeowners or developer will need to manage. 
  9. How to Access the Property? Rural properties are great, and a lot of people really value the privacy they offer. But sometimes, these properties don’t have legal road access. That means you would technically have to trespass on a neighbor’s lot or on a private access route to get to your land.
  10. Is the Property Where Wetlands Are Located? Wetlands don’t generally appeal to land buyers and investors. They’re either seasonally or permanently saturated with water and will contain marshes and swamps. We’re going to get more into wetlands below!
  11. What is Property Size? It’s crucial to understand the size and shape of the parcel. It will let you know how much “stuff” you can build, or how much space you have to roam. 
  12. Is the Land Near a Conservation Easement? A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a piece of property to protect its resources. It’s is a legally binding agreement that can limit the landowner from planting, clearing, or hunting on certain areas of land. 
  13. Who Owns Mineral Rights to My Property? Mineral, Timber, and Water Rights to the land are often owned separate from the land itself. Here’s some information for you on how Mineral Rights work.
  14. Are There Any Water Features? A water feature can refer to a river, creek, lake, spring, pond, stream – a body of water that already exists on the property. A water feature can potentially increase the value of the property, or if it’s a wetland or marsh, potentially decrease the value.
  15. Who are Your Neighbors? Who are the neighbors surrounding your lot? If you had to sell this property again in a year, is it desirable to other potential buyers? 

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What to Watch for When Buying Florida Land

If you’ve gone through those 15 questions for your potential property, you’re in pretty good shape! But, as we mentioned before there are some state-specific things to watch for. When buying land in Florida, flood zones, wetlands, and floodways are something you need to be aware of. You can learn more about flood zones, wetlands, and floodways here.

You also need to be aware of scrub jays. 

What is a Scrub Jay?

The Florida scrub jay is one of the species of scrub jay native to North America. It is the only species of bird endemic to the U.S. state of Florida and one of only 15 species endemic to the continental United States. Because of this, it is heavily sought by birders who travel from across the country to observe this unique species.

It measures 23 to 28 cm (9.1 to 11.0 in) in length and weighs from 66 to 92 g (2.3 to 3.2 oz), with an average 80.2 g (2.83 oz). The wingspan of the jay is 33–36 cm (13–14 in). It has a strong black bill, blue head, and nape without a crest, a whitish forehead and supercilium, blue bib, blue wings, grayish underparts, gray back, long blue tail, black legs, and feet.

The Florida scrub jay is found in Florida scrub habitat, an ecosystem that exists in central and southeast Florida (e.g. Palm Beach County) and has plenty of nutrient-poor soil suffers the occasional drought, and has frequent wildfires.

Scrub habitat has dwindled considerably in the past several decades as Florida has continued to develop. In recent years, environmental groups within the state have made a strong effort at preserving Florida’s remaining scrub through controlled burns and even clearing out areas of large trees to increase the size of a scrub habitat. Oscar Scherer State Park near Sarasota has one of the larger habitats under state management.

The Florida scrub jay was officially listed as a threatened state species by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 1975 and it was listed as a threatened federal species by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 1987.

In 1993, there were estimated to be 4000 breeding pairs left in the wild. Despite the protections, the Florida scrub jay is still thought to be on the decline. 

Another attempt to conserve the bird is an ongoing campaign to name the Florida scrub jay as the new state bird of Florida. The main argument for changing the state bird is that the current state bird (viz. the northern mockingbird) is the state bird of several other states, while the scrub jay is exclusive to Florida.

Scrub Jays on Florida Land

What does that have to do with buying and selling land? Well, if you buy a property that is in a scrub jay zone, you are now at the whim of these birds. 

You’re going to have to get special permits from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and permission before you do anything to the lot. You would have to get permits before building or modifying your property regardless, but the permits for lots with scrub jays will be more expensive than for the permits without scrub jays. 

County officials will have to visit your property, and it might take a year or so before you get any approvals on your permits. If a lot is in a scrub jay zone in Charlotte County, for example, you can get a building permit for a 10,000 sq ft lot by paying a fee of $2,200. You can check out Charlotte County’s development fees for scrub jay properties based on acreage.

If you decide to clear the lot and you don’t have any of the approved permits, you could be facing a $100,000 fine as an individual and a $200,000 fine as a corporation! Definitely not the best decision.

How to Find out if Scrub Jays are on Your Land

How do you check if the property is in a scrub jay zone? Thankfully, there are free resources online for you to use. You can check with the county’s GIS mapping system. 

For example in Charlotte County, you can access an interactive layer on their GIS mapping that has the scrub jay boundaries outlined. You can find the GIS map here. Any area marked with a solid red is a scrub jay zone, and you would need a special permit. You can also search by address and parcel number if you’re considering buying a specific piece of property. 

Alternatively, you can call the county’s Planning and Zoning Department, and they should be able to let you know if you’re in a scrub jay zone. 

If your property is in an area that is currently under review for being in a scrub jay zone, you will have to have an environmentalist go out to perform an inspection and the required test. This step cannot be skipped – the county won’t appreciate you trying to claim ignorance.

If the county clears your property out of ‘review’ (no scrub jays found), you have one year from that date it was cleared to build on the property. If you go beyond that 1 year or don’t intend to build until, say 2 years later, you will, unfortunately, have to get an environmentalist out to the property again. This can be expensive, prices estimate around $900, so make sure you plan accordingly and if you’re going to hire the environmentalist – build within 1 year! 

My Land is in a Scrub Jay Zone!

If you’re going through the mapper and you’ve realized that you own a property that’s in a scrub jay zone, it’s okay. When I first started investing in land, I made that same mistake. 

Thankfully, it is possible to get the permits approved and the land cleared. You just need to go through the right steps and have a little bit of patience. There are still great properties that are located in these scrub jay zones, so don’t write them off completely, just make sure you do your homework to make a well-informed decision (don’t forget about those 15 questions to help you with your due diligence!).

Bottom Line on Scrub Jays

Scrub jays are a small bird, about the size of a robin. They nest on the ground in certain areas of central Florida. You can check if your property, or the property you hope to buy, is in a scrub jay zone by checking the county’s GIS mapping system online. Search for the property address and make sure the layer for scrub jays is showing. If this information isn’t available online, you can try calling the county’s Planning and Zoning Department.  

If your property is in a scrub jay zone, you’re going to have to get special permits from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and permission before you do anything to the lot. Don’t skip this. Remember that the penalties are severe!

Have you ever bought land in a scrub jay zone? Let me know – I’m curious to know how that worked out for you, leave a comment below!

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12 responses to “Scrub Jays and How They Can Ruin Your Day

  1. Appreciate your scrub jay info here. I am very experienced in SW Fl land use matters (37+ yrs). But, no one knows it all. Life friend/associate being treated unfairly, beyond comprehension, at a very difficult time in his life. He has not asked me to fight his battle. But, I’m going to bat for him anyhow.

    I owe him that and more.

    If there were any chance this totally urban residential 10 acres was SJ habitat, I’d understand. But, what we’re dealing with here is a “text book” case in abuse of power.

    This property has not seen a scrub Jay in 20 years, and it never will.

    Looking to help my friend. Reaching out to others familiar with this.

    Hope to hear from you

    1. Hi Richard. I’m sorry to hear about your friend! I hope everything works out for him. He is lucky to have people in his life like you, who are willing to help him.

      Unfortunately, I don’t have much experience in overturning the county’s scrub jay classifications. I think if you want to appeal a property’s current classification, you would have to contact the county and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. To get started, you could call the county’s Planning and Zoning department. Sorry I can’t be of more help, good luck!

    2. get a lawyer discredit the environmentalist with your findings. Its highly likely that gov lack of funds these days so they are trying to get money as much as possible. Sorry not gonna happen..

      1. Thanks for reaching out J! I didn’t think of that, I don’t know if it would be successful or not, but it could be worth a shot!

      2. A lawyer isn’t a scientist and won’t be able to do that, unless you’re insinuating that scientists should be libeled and slandered as a way of silencing or intimidating them?

        Your “advice” is misleading as this isn’t about legal “interpretation,” but the presence and utilization of a specific species within a habitat.

        And once a survey is completed with a confirmation of presence, a lawyer can’t “discredit” or otherwise debunk the findings. Period.

        1. I think it’s unfair especially if the property was purchased “pre-scrub jay determination.” Properties in this case should be grandfathered or bought by the state in order to protect the habitat.

  2. Hello, I’m also considering purchasing a piece of property in a scrub jay zoned area in Charlotte county. I’ve dealt with permitting in areas with Tortoise burrows but never dealt with SJ. All things considered, is it probably better to just avoid properties already zoned SJ? Thank you!

    1. Hi RJ! Scrub jays aren’t typically a deal-breaker for us – we’re ok with the extra permitting (usually around $2,000). Avoiding scrub jay properties really depends on your personal preference. If you’d rather not deal with the birds and extra permits, maybe these lots aren’t for you. If you don’t mind or found the perfect property and you’re willing to look past that, then great! Totally up to you. Hope this helps 🙂

  3. I am looking at purchasing land in a Scrub Jay zone. My question is that if I do get the permits and clear out the land, but do not wish to build a home for 5-10 years down the road, will I have to get additional permits in the future. Also, if I clear the land can I put up a fence so that no tortoises can burrow on the property as I know they like cleared lots.

    Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi David! I would double-check with the County offices just to make sure, but I do believe that the permits have a lifespan on them, because the scrub jay doesn’t always follow the exact same pattern, and sometimes they get relocated to other areas.

      In regards to the clearing + fence, I would think that’s fine. I haven’t heard of fencing being an issue at all, especially in those populated areas of SW FL. While you’re on the phone with the County RE the scrub jays, you can also ask them about the fence, just to be sure. I would hate to misguide you. Hope this helps!

  4. If you have a 6 acre lot, but only need to clear 2 or 2 acres, would you still have to pay the impact fee for the >5 acre lot size, or do they consider the smaller part that is cleared? That’d be almost $75k otherwise.

    1. Hi Emil! To be honest with you, I’m not entirely sure. I would hate to misguide you on this, because it’s such a big cost. Your best bet is to call the County’s Planning and Zoning Dept directly and ask them. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. Good luck!

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