Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)
Associated Species: Other species that may use habitats in a similar way and/or respond similarly
to threats, management, and conservation activities include Ash-throated Flycatcher, Juniper
Titmouse, and Bewick's Wren.
Distribution: Pinyon Jays range the semiarid lands of the West. The Colorado Breeding Bird
Atlas map shows them south of a diagonal line drawn from the northwest corner to the southeast
corner of the state (Kingery 1998).
Habitat Requirements: Pinyon Jays are pinyon and juniper obligates in Colorado and over most
of their range. They nest commonly at the lower elevations of pinyon-juniper woodlands, often
where junipers dominate. A few nest in ponderosa pine. They prefer extensive stands far from
high human activity.
Ecology: For these year-round residents, courtship and nesting begins in the winter. Everything
is a group activity. Colonies consist of several dozen pairs, usually with one nest per tree, but
sometimes with up to three. They build deep, bulky nests of twigs and shredded bark in the
bottom half of the tree canopy, often on the south sides of trees. The colony ranges up to 13 km
(8 mi) to find food for the nestlings. This communal species seems relatively safer from predation
and more vulnerable to human intrusion than most other pinyon-juniper species. Common Ravens
may be the primary nestling predators. Pinyon Jays eat many foods, but pinyon nuts and juniper
cones are their staples. Their harvest and storage system allows the use of these foods well
beyond the season of ripeness. They typically locate caches on the south sides of trees, where the
snow melts the soonest (Balda and Bateman 1971).
Management Issues and Conservation Recommendations: Older pinyon and juniper trees
produce the majority of the cones and berries. Manage for large and old age-class trees for high
pinyon nut and juniper berry production.
Pinyon Jays are secretive during the nesting season and will not nest near human activity.
Consider this jay's nesting sites to be road density sensitive.
Status and Reasons for Concern: Pinyon Jays are indicators of healthy pinyon-juniper
woodlands. The Colorado Plateau has high area responsibility for Pinyon Jay, with more than
20% of its range falling within the physiographic area, and the species has a high overall priority
ranking. Partners in Flight in the Intermountain West states uniformly consider it a priority
species. The BBS results for 1969-1996 for Physiographic Area 87 do not show a statistically
significant annual rate of change (P = 0.58, n = 45 routes). Pinyon Jays were present on an
average of 47.84 (SE = 4.97) of the BBS routes run in Physiographic Area 87 in Colorado during
1988-1997, at an average abundance of 9.54 (SE = 2.15) individuals per route. The mean
number of routes run each year was 11.4 (SE = 1.55). This species is monitored by MCB with
Biological Objective: Maintain or increase the species' distribution and abundance, based upon
results of the BBS and MCB monitoring programs. To do this, a target is set to maintain an
average of at least one occurrence per 75 points or at least five birds per 100 points on all MCB
pinyon-juniper woodland transects where they have ever occurred.
Selected References: Andrews and Righter 1992, Balda and Bateman 1971, Kingery 1998.