The pinyon jay is a gregarious and iconic bird found in western North America. Medium-sized, crestless and pale blue except for a white bib on their throat, chin and upper breast, it thrives in pinyon-juniper woodlands and feeds on pinyon pine seeds.

An obligate species, its survival depends on healthy pinyon-juniper woodlands. In turn, these woodlands depend on the pinyon jay to disperse their seeds across the landscape. However, pinyon jay numbers are plummeting, and they need the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to avoid extinction.

Defenders' Impact

To address threats and secure adequate regulatory protections for the pinyon jay, Defenders is urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the pinyon jay as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In April 2022, we formally petitioned the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to list and designate critical habitat for the species. We are also using science, education, litigation and research to bolster conservation of the pinyon jay and its pinyon-juniper woodland habitat.

Threats

Loss of pinyon-juniper woodlands caused by long term drought and climate change, insects and disease directly contribute to the pinyon jays’ decline. Forest management practices such as pinyon-juniper woodland removal by thinning and chemical treatments that facilitate grazing, wildfire prevention and game management also contribute. And although protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, there are no legal protections in place to protect the Pinyon Jay and its pinyon-juniper woodland habitat. 

Protection Status
IUCN Red List
 Vulnerable
What You Can Do

Urge your federal, state and local agencies responsible for forest management to adhere to the management steps in the New Mexico Avian Conservation Partners publication - schedule forest thinning treatments to avoid disturbing nesting pinyon jays, keep a buffer of undisturbed habitat around breeding colonies and leave untouched patches of pinyon and juniper trees. 

If you live in pinyon jay country, put out a bird feeder with sunflower seeds, suet, cracked corn and peanuts. And participate in a community science project such as the Pinyon Jay Community Science project with the Great Basin Bird Observatory to help us learn more about pinyon jays.
 

Facts
Latin Name
Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus
Size
10” in length with a wingspan of 18”, and weigh up to 0.26 lbs
Lifespan
Average lifespan is 5 to 6 years. Some pinyon jays have been known to live up to 14 years.
Range/Habitat

Incredibly social birds, pinyon jays fly, forage and nest together from central Oregon across to western South Dakota and central Montana down to southern New Mexico.

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Pinyon Jay Range Map
Population

The global population is 770,000 individuals but over the past 50 years, the pinyon jay population declined by 85%, and, without protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act, half of its remaining global population is expected to be lost by 2035.

Behavior

Pinyon Jays are sociable at all seasons, traveling in flocks, nesting in colonies. When on the move they fly close together, making harsh, nasal calls.

Reproduction

Breeds in late winter. Lays 4-5 eggs, very pale, blue green to grayish color with brown dots. The female incubates the eggs for 17 days and is fed by the male during the incubation period. 

Diet

Pinyon jays are omnivores and feed heavily on pinyon pine nuts. In summer, pinyon jays also eat insects, including beetles, caterpillars, and grasshoppers. 

Pinyon Jay Blog Posts

Wildlife and Wild Places

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