12 Fascinating Facts About The Pinyon Jay


The pinyon jay is a fascinating and unique bird that is found in parts of the southwest United States and Mexico. 

These outgoing and personable birds are highly social, and their behavior is widely studied by backyard bird watchers and ornithologists alike.

Here are 12 fascinating facts about the pinyon jay that may surprise you.

1. Pinyon Jays Are Also Called Blue Crows

Pinyon jays are dull, denim blue in color, but their features are not as vibrant as those of their cousins, the blue jays and bluebirds

With a body size and shape resembling that of a crow, it is no wonder that the pinyon jay also goes by the nickname the ‘blue crow.’

In addition to the blue-gray feathers covering the bird’s body, the pinyon jays can also be identified by their bright yellow beaks. 

They also sport a patch of white on the napes of their necks.

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2. Pinyon Jays Are Named For Their Favorite Trees

Pinyon jays have a favorite type of tree. They are particularly fond of the pinyon pines that are common in the American southwest. 

Biologists believe that the pinyon jay and the pinyon pine evolved together, thanks to their mutually beneficial relationship.

The pinyon pine trees provide the main food source for the birds, pine nuts, as well as giving the birds shelter and nesting sites. 

In return, the pinyon jays help disperse the seeds for the pinyon pine.

3. They Have A Unique Adaptation

The pinyon jay is the only member of its genus, Gymnorhinus, a term that translates to mean ‘bare nostrils.’ 

Pinyon jays do not have feathers at the base of their beaks that cover their nostrils like their cousins, the blue jay and the common raven.

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This unusual feature evolved to help the pinyon jays eat their favorite food. 

Without the nostril features, the pinyon jays can stick their beaks deep into the sticky pinecones to search for seeds without getting the sap stuck in their nostril features.

4. Pinyon Jays Are Highly Social Birds

Photo: Bryant Olsen / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Pinyon jays live in large flocks of up to 300 individuals. 

The highly social birds often flock together in the winter months, when their food sources are scarcer, and they can be seen in smaller groups during the summer months.

Their highly social behavior also means that pinyon jays form strong family bonds, and can often be seen helping each other to find food and build nests. 

This behavior is unique among birds and is a fascinating display of their complex social skills.

5. They Can Be Quite Vocal

Pinyon jays are also known for their vocalizations. They communicate with each other using a variety of soft clicks, chirps, whistles, and high-pitched calls. 

They also have a loud and distinctive call that is used to alert other birds of potential danger or to signal the location of a food source.

6. The Memories Of Pinyon Jays Are Impressive

Pinyon jays are widely known for their impressive memory, which allows them to remember where they have stored their food for extended periods of time. 

In fact, these birds have been known to remember the location of their caches for up to three months. Their memory skills make them incredibly efficient at finding food.

Their impressive memory skills also come in handy when they are gathering food. 

Pinyon jays often work as a group to search for food. These birds can remember which areas they have already searched and which areas they still need to explore.

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7. Pinyon Jays Are Kleptos

Pinyon jays have been known to engage in a behavior called ‘kleptoparasitism.’ 

This means that the pinyon jays will eat the eggs of other birds, primarily the bluebird. They supplement their diet of pine seeds, berries, and insects by stealing and eating eggs.

Biologists believe this behavior gives the pinyon jays access to protein and other important nutrients. 

This is especially helpful during times when pine seeds are harder to find and during the winter months.

8. They Are Monogamous

Pinyon jays are monogamous birds, meaning that they mate for life. 

They form long bonds, and both the male and female of the pair will work together to build their nest and raise their young. 

They are also known to work as a team to help their young fledglings learn to fly and find food.

The pair bond between pinyon jays is so strong that it has been observed in both wild and captive populations.

9. They Are Evolving From Being Residents Birds To Nomadic Ones

Pinyon jays are nonmigratory birds, meaning they are resident birds. They tend to live in the same area and don’t wander too far away. 

In many parts of the southwest, including Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada, the pinyon jay is becoming less of a resident bird and more of a nomadic one.

Because the pinyon jay is so dependent on the pinyon pine, the birds will wander to other places if the pines in their area have been cut down or destroyed. 

Human encroachment and habitat loss have forced pinyon jays to seek new homes and have contributed to their declining numbers.

10. They Are Flexible Nesters

When it comes to nests, pinyon jays are flexible. 

They will build their own nests in the cavities of pine trees, construct nests in holes in the ground, or move into existing nests that were built and abandoned by other birds.

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They are also flexible about the habitat in which they nest. Pinyon jay nests are found in pine forests, open scrublands, and deciduous forests.

11. Pinyon Jays Are Resilient

Capable of surviving harsh weather and temperature extremes, the pinyon jays are hearty, resilient birds. 

They make their homes in the American southwest, a land of extremes. Pinyon jays have been observed in desert environments, as well as in higher elevations.

Pinyon jays can survive in places with little water. They can withstand temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit and dropping to well before freezing.

12. They Have A High Reproduction Rate

Pinyon jays also have a high reproductive rate. They are capable of producing two broods of young per year, which is higher than most other birds. 

This high reproductive rate helps to ensure the survival of the species in the wild, especially in the face of declining population numbers.


The pinyon jay is an amazing bird that is full of fascinating facts. They are highly social, have impressive memory, and are highly adaptable. 

They also have a striking coloration and a loud, distinctive call. They are resilient and have a high reproductive rate, making them a successful species in the wild. 

The next time you are out birdwatching, be sure to look out for these fascinating birds.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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