Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Pinyon Jay

Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus

This odd jay, looking more like a small blue-gray crow, lives mainly in the Great Basin region of the west. Appropriately named, it feeds heavily on the seeds of pinyon pines, and its distribution is tied closely to the range of these trees. Pinyon Jays are sociable at all seasons, traveling in flocks, nesting in colonies. When on the move they fly close together, giving harsh nasal calls.
Conservation status Local numbers may change drastically from year to year, making it difficult to track the overall population, but surveys indicate general declines in recent decades.
Family Crows, Magpies, Jays
Habitat Pinyon pines, junipers; ranges into sagebrush. Under normal conditions, seldom found far from pinyon pines in pinyon-juniper woods. At times, perhaps when the pinyon cone crop fails, flocks are seen elsewhere in streamside groves, oak woods, or other habitats.
This odd jay, looking more like a small blue-gray crow, lives mainly in the Great Basin region of the west. Appropriately named, it feeds heavily on the seeds of pinyon pines, and its distribution is tied closely to the range of these trees. Pinyon Jays are sociable at all seasons, traveling in flocks, nesting in colonies. When on the move they fly close together, giving harsh nasal calls.
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  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Does much foraging on ground, also feeds in trees, and occasionally flies out to catch insects in the air. Almost always forages in flocks. Stores many pine seeds in late summer and fall, burying caches in ground, and is able to find them and feed on them later.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-6. Very pale blue-green to grayish, finely dotted with brown. Incubation is by female, about 16-17 days. Male feeds female during incubation. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Young leave nest about 3 weeks after hatching.


Young

Both parents bring food for nestlings. Young leave nest about 3 weeks after hatching.

Diet

Omnivorous, but especially pinyon pine seeds. Feeds heavily on seeds of pinyon pine; also eats seeds of other pines and many other plants, berries, small fruits, nuts, waste grain. Especially in summer, eats many insects, including beetles, caterpillars, and grasshoppers, also sometimes eggs and young of smaller birds. Young are fed mostly insects.


Nesting

Nests in colonies, close together but usually no more than 1-3 nests in any one tree. Breeds mostly in late winter, the adults feeding largely on stored seeds; may nest again in late summer if pinyon pines produce an exceptional seed crop. In courtship, several males may pursue one female in flight. Nest site is usually 3-20' above the ground in juniper, oak, or pinyon, sometimes much higher in other kind of pine. Nest (built by both sexes) has foundation of twigs, inner cup made of shredded bark, grass, rootlets, pine needles, animal hair. Often steals material from unattended nests of neighbors.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Not truly migratory, but nomadic. May remain in one area if good cone crops are consistent, or may wander widely, especially in fall and winter.

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Migration

Not truly migratory, but nomadic. May remain in one area if good cone crops are consistent, or may wander widely, especially in fall and winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A high-pitched caaa, often quavering at the end and resembling a laughing haa-a-a-a.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Crows, Magpies, Jays Perching Birds

Pinyon Jay

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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