Pinyon Jay Conservation

Protecting one of the Intermountain West's most iconic birds
Pinyon Jay. Photo: Lyndia Radice/Audubon Photography Awards.

Pinyon Jay Conservation

Protecting one of the Intermountain West's most iconic birds

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:

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.

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”) 
  • 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
  • Record your sightings, or lack of sightings. You can survey anytime, in any Pinyon-Juniper woodland or adjacent area.

New this Fall: help us map pinyon pinecone productivity!

Pinyon pine nuts for the cornerstone of the Pinyon Jay’s diet, but throughout their range, pinyon pines are suffering from long-term drought, insect infestations, and fire. We need YOUR help to map productive trees and have developed a simple protocol and phone app to make this easy! You can read the protocol here and get the data intake form by joining the data hub (directions above). If you are already a hub member, the data form should be available to you for download. Our first cone productivity workshop will be on September 10 in Santa Fe, see below for more info and to sign-up. Note that workshop attendance is NOT mandatory, but we will review the bird survey protocol as well. Sign-up here.

Upcoming Training Workshops:  No workshops are currently scheduled.  Check back soon or contact Cathy Wise at for more information.

Supporting Organizations:

Great Basin Bird Observatory : Already surveying Pinyon Jays with GBBO? Enter your data, get a refresher on the Survey123 app, and learn about Pinyon Jay Natural History by visiting their Pinyon Jay community science page.



Arizona Bird Conservation Initiative: Coordinated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Arizona Bird Conservation Initiative (ABCI) is a voluntary partnership of government agencies, conservation groups, academic institutions, private businesses, and citizens working to conserve, monitor, and enhance bird populations and their habitats with the goal of “keeping common birds common.” An integral component of ABCI, is the Arizona Coordinated Bird Monitoring Program (AZCBM). The program coordinates implementation of existing projects, supports projects implemented by partners, and collaborates on the design and implementation of new projects with interested stakeholders. The initiative is working with partners to better understand the distribution and habitat use of Pinyon Jays in Arizona


Defenders of Wildlife: Defenders of Wildlife envisions a future where diverse wildlife populations in North America are secure and thriving, sustained by a network of healthy lands and waters. Our conservation efforts are targeted at the full range of vulnerable North American biodiversity, from plants to pollinators to predators. Our approach is direct and straightforward – We protect and restore imperiled species throughout North America by transforming policies and institutions and by promoting innovative solutions.


Grand Canyon Trust: The Grand Canyon Trust's Pinyon Jay Project is great for anyone, including those with limited birding experience. They are looking for volunteers to help gather information about Pinyon Jays to inform sound management of pinyon and juniper forests throughout the Colorado Plateau. This is an independent community science project. You do the online training, then you choose where, when, and how many hours you want to contribute. They encourage participants to observe the Pinyon Jays at least four times throughout the year, ideally in four different locations. Also, they encourage folks to observe in and around the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area, since that is where proposals for large-scale tree removal projects that threaten the birds' habitat are being seen.


Kaibab National Forest: The Kaibab National Forest is partnering with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Great Basin Bird Observatory and Audubon to assess both pinyon jay habitat use and pinyon nut availability, and to explore community science to support monitoring. We hope to harness the enthusiasms of recreational birders to both collect data and help spread the word about potential threats. The project provides critical information for the Kaibab National Forest for landscape-level evaluation effectiveness of land treatments with an eye to effects of this restoration work on the Pinon Jay. A secondary benefit includes preliminary identification of pinyon nut availability, as Pinyon Jays serve as short- and long-distance seed dispersers and play key role in maintaining ecosystem integrity. The Kaibab NF monitoring plan identifies pinyon nut production as an area of cultural significance for certain tribes and areas of mast production will be identified during territory surveys.


Partners in Flight: Partners in Flight (PIF) identifies Pinyon Jay as a yellow Watch List species with a goal of reversing population declines. PIF criteria for inclusion as a yellow Watch List species is due to population declines and threats to habitats on breeding and nonbreeding grounds.  Learn more about their Pinyon Jay Working Group here.


Utah Division of Wildlife Resources: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources: The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources identifies the Pinyon Jay as a "Species of Greatest Conservation Need" (SGCN). A species is classified as a species of greatest conservation need in the Utah Wildlife Action Plan if it is likely to undergo substantial population declines in all or part of its natural region without management intervention.  Learn more about their work here.


How you can help, right now