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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Pinyon Jay -- Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus

RANGE: Breeds from central Oregon to western South Dakota, south to Baja California, northwestern and east-central Arizona, central New Mexico, and western Oklahoma. Winters throughout the breeding range and irregularly from southern Washington to northwestern Montana south to Mexico and central Texas.

STATUS: Common.

HABITAT: Typically inhabits pinyon-juniper woodlands of the foothills and lower mountain ranges in the West, but also occurs in open ponderosa pine forests where the soil is dry and trees are small and scattered. Locally nomadic outside the nesting season in response to fluctuating food supplies; during years of a poor seed crop, may move in flocks hundreds of miles to find food.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Open woodlands for nesting and an adequate supply of seeds, especially pinyon nuts.

NEST: Usually nests in scattered colonies of up to 100 birds, usually with just one nest per tree. Builds nest away from the center of a tree on a low, southerly facing horizontal limb, and generally 6 to 20 feet, but up to 85 feet, above the ground. Pinyons, junipers, ponderosa pines, and scrub oaks are common nest trees.

FOOD: Forages in trees and on the ground, principally for seeds, especially pinyon nuts, but also seeds of ponderosa pines and other conifers, and caches them for use during the next breeding season. It also eats fruits, berries, insects, and eggs and nestlings of small birds.

REFERENCES: Balda and Bateman 1972, Goodwin 1976, Johnsgard 1979, Terres 1980, Wilmore 1977.

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