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Pinyon Jay

Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CORVIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Pinyon Jay Photo

A highly social bird of the lower mountain slopes of the western United States, the Pinyon Jay is specialized for feeding on pine seeds. Each jay stores thousands of seeds each year, and has such a good memory that it can remember where most of them were hidden.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
10.2–11.4 in
26–29 cm
Wingspan
18.1 in
46 cm
Weight
3.2–4.2 oz
90–120 g
Other Names
  • Geai des pinèdes (French)
  • Chara piñonera (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Pinyon Jay's bill is featherless at its base (hence the name Gymnorhinus = bare nostrils). Nearly all other members of the family Corvidae have feathers covering their nostrils. The Pinyon Jay can probe deep into pitch-laden cones without fouling the feathers that would cover the nostrils of other jays.
  • Although omnivorous, the Pinyon Jay is committed to the harvest, transport, caching, and later retrieval of pine seeds. It is aided by a relatively long, strong bill; an expandable esophagus; and long, strong wings. Individuals have excellent spatial memories that allow them to find most of their hidden seeds months after caching, even through snow.
  • Although the Pinyon Jay is a permanent resident throughout its range, in years when cone crops fail, individuals often disperse far from their normal haunts, making them one of the truly "irruptive" species of North American birds.
  • Pinyon Jay social organization is complex, with permanent flocks that may include more than 500 individuals. Many birds spend their entire lives in their natal flocks. Individuals that do disperse, usually females before they are one year of age, generally travel only short distances.
  • Mated pairs of Pinyon Jays appear to coordinate their caching so that their cache locations are known to each other, especially the male. Although this behavior is difficult to observe in the wild, data from aviary observations and experiments confirm this arrangement.
  • The oldest recorded Pinyon Jay was a male, and at least 14 years, 7 months old, when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Arizona in 1985. He had been found int he same state in 1972.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Found in pinyon-juniper woodland, sagebrush, scrub oak, and chaparral communities, and sometimes in pine forests.

Food


Omnivore

Pine seeds, some acorns, juniper berries, other wild berries, cultivated grains, arthropods, lizards, snakes, nestling birds, and small mammals.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–5 eggs
Egg Description
Pale blue with dark brown speckles, usually concentrated around large end.
Condition at Hatching
Naked and helpless.
Nest Description

Large, bulky open cup of sticks, with a midlayer of grasses and an inner cup of fine, powdery materials, such as plant parts, feathers, horsehair, cloth rootlets, or shredded bark. Placed in trees.

Nest Placement

Tree

Behavior


Ground Forager

Opens ripe green pine cones and removes seeds, probes deep into crevices in bark and soil, and kills small vertebrates with swift, well-directed blows of the bill to the head and upper neck.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Vulnerable

Pinyon Jay populations have been declining throughout their range. Populations fell by 3.7% per year between 1966 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 85%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 770,000, with 99% living in the U.S., and 1% in Mexico. The species rates a 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and is both a Tri-National Concern Species, and a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species. Pinyon Jay is on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List, which includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. Destruction of pinyon-juniper habitat to create grazing land for cattle has caused the loss of many jays. Changes in fire regimes has resulted in loss of many pinyon pines, threatening Pinyon Jay populations.

Credits

Range Map Help

Pinyon Jay Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Backyard Tips

This species often comes to bird feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

You Might Also Like

Fire, Drought, Beetles, and Birds, Birdscope, Spring 2004.

Jay and Pine Intertwined, Living Bird, Autumn 2012.

Jays And Crows Act As Ecosystem Engineers, All About Birds, February 4, 2016.

Where Is That Bird Going With That Seed? It’s Caching Food For Later, All About Birds, April 13, 2016.

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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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