The Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) is an iconic bird of the intermountain west and was once common throughout the Pinyon-Juniper woodlands of northern Arizona and New Mexico, southern Utah, and portions of Nevada and Colorado. This colonial species’ diet is comprised largely of Pinyon Pine nuts and the species can be quite nomadic in pursuit of this favored food. Long term drought, climate change, and habitat conversions have resulted in astonishing Pinyon Jay population declines. From 1967–2015, populations fell by 3.69% annually for an estimated total loss of 83.5%
It would seem ironic that as Pinyon-Juniper trees encroach into some grasslands, Pinyon Jays, specialists in this habitat type, are languishing precipitously. Although the specific reasons for this decline remain unclear, it is likely that Pinyon trees are suffering from long-term drought, increasing temperatures, and other climatic shifts. Research suggests that these changes are leading to pinyon pines that produce fewer nuts. The birds seem to be ranging further from historic colony sites and might be relying more heavily on other food sources such as juniper berries and insects. Meanwhile, land managers find themselves in a double bind needing to both preserve grasslands and protect Pinyon Jay habitat. Guidelines for grassland preservation with an eye to the jay are lacking.
How to help:
Ready to get started now? You can!
• Join Great Basin Bird Observatory’s data hub by building a free profile. Use “_ASW” in your username, and we will add you to the Audubon Southwest Pinyon Jay Monitoring Group. Username example: “PeterPinyon_ASW” Join HERE
• Download Esri’s free Survey 123 app on your smart phone (available at your favorite app store) and log in with your Hub username and password. Once you are added to the ASW group, you will automagically have access to our data intake form
• Read over the data collection instructions, they are available HERE
• Record your sightings, or lack of sightings. You can survey anytime, in any Pinyon-Juniper woodland or adjacent area.
You don't have to be an expert birder to help. Sign-up here! Community scientists play a critical role in gathering crucial data on a scale not otherwise possible! Join Audubon in-person or virtually for an orientation to Pinyon Jays and to a simple protocol. We have a spectrum of engagement opportunities from birding in your neighborhood to visiting a pre-defined survey block.