Pinyon Jay

Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus
Range Map

The Pinyon Jay occurs in western North America from central Oregon to northern Baja California and east as far as the western Oklahoma panhandle, and always live as part of a crowd, with as many as 500 members in the clan. They prefer habitat near Pinyon and Ponderosa Pines.

Science has studied these birds extensively near Flagstaff (Arizona). They do not migrate, but will wander over sizeable areas sometimes in search of pine seeds.

Pinyon Jays are the only member of the Corvid clan not to have bristle feathers over their nostrils. We believe this helps them probe deeper into the crevices of pinecones to extract seeds without fowling their feathers with pine pitch.

Science regards the Pinyon Jay as monotypic (i.e. no subspecies), and their closest relatives are Stellar’s Jays and Blue Jays.

In 2004, early in my explorations into the birding world, I met my first Pinyon Jay in Arizona. Believing it was a Mexican Jay, I recorded it as such. Years later, after meeting more of these birds and learning more about them, I re-evaluated the identity of this bird and made corrections.

My favorite encounters came while working with the San Diego Natural History Museum’s science team in the San Jacinto – Santa Rosa Mountain region in Riverside County (southern California). There, I found a flock of adults standing watch over several flightless fledglings on the ground below. I enjoyed capturing images of the adults and the gangly youngsters.

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