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 problematically into 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. 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
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. (Training dates and resources are coming soon! For now, reach out to Audubon Southwest Community Science Manager Cathy Wise at firstname.lastname@example.org.