Living Bird Magazine
Pinyon JayGymnorhinus cyanocephalus
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Corvidae
The Pinyon Jay is a crestless, blue jay that travels in large noisy flocks throughout pinyon-juniper, chaparral, and scrub-oak woodlands in the western United States. This strong-flying jay gives a crowlike kaw to keep in touch with the group. Flocks stick together year-round, breeding and foraging together. They scour the landscape for food, especially the seeds of pinyon pines, which they eat on the spot or hide by the tens of thousands to eat later. Their excellent spatial memory helps them find buried seeds.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Pinyon Jays move about the landscape in a nomadic fashion, which makes finding them a bit challenging. Head to the top of a hill or other good lookout point and scan the tops of pinyon pines below. They aren't always in the trees though, so be sure to look for them foraging on the ground as well. They tend to be rather noisy, so if they are around you will hear their constant crowlike kaws.
- Chara Piñonera (Spanish)
- Geai des pinèdes (French)
Pinyon Jays often come to bird feeders for a quick meal of sunflower seeds, suet, cracked corn, or peanuts. Find out what feeder is best for them by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- The Pinyon Jay's bill is featherless at its base (hence the name Gymnorhinus meaning 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.
- Pinyon Jays store pinyon pine seeds, similar to those fatty and high calorie pine nuts available at supermarkets, to eat later in the season. Instead of carrying seeds one at a time to a caching site, their expandable esophagus lets them carry about 40 seeds in one go. They fill up on seeds and fly with throats bulging to a caching site.
- Pinyon Jay social organization is complex, with permanent flocks that may include more than 500 individuals. Many birds spend their entire lives with the flock where they hatched.
- Although the Pinyon Jay is a permanent resident throughout its range, in years when cone crops fail, individuals often leave in search of seeds elsewhere—a mark of an irruptive species.
- The oldest recorded Pinyon Jay was a male at least 14 years, 7 months old, when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Arizona in 1985.