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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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.
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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Pinyon Jay

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Pinyon Jay

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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