Pinyon jays are returning to local backyards
Many of you have reported flocks of pinyon jays arriving en masse to feast upon your piñon tree nuts and birdfeeders. Pinyon Jays are social creatures in all seasons. They travel in flocks and nest in colonies. Their range is closely tied to the range of piñon trees.
These jays can be nomadic. They may stay in one area if the nut crop is good but may wander widely, especially in fall and winter, if the piñon crop is inconsistent. In other words, their arrival in your backyard can vary from one year to the next. But right now is a good time to see lots of pinyon jays in the Santa Fe area.
Like all jays, pinyon jays love nuts. If you want to attract flocks of these blue beauties, feed a mix loaded with peanuts or chopped tree nuts. Other birds like bushtits, nuthatches and chickadees may also visit to take advantage of these high fat treats. If you tire of pinyon jays raiding your feeders and cages, deterrents exist to keep them at bay.
Pinyon jays cache many of the piñon nuts they are gathering right now. They bury caches in the ground and come back to the stash later in the fall and winter when food is scarce. Some other birds, like other jays and Clark’s nutcrackers, cache food too. Pinyon jays hide thousands of nuts. Their expandable esophagus helps them to really load up when making trips to stash seeds and nuts.
Pinyon jays have an excellent memory, which often helps them to find caches of food months after hiding, even through snow. The pinyon jays’ bill is featherless at its base. Most members of the Corvidae family (crows, jays, and magpies) have feathers covering their nostrils. The pinyon jays can probe deep into sticky, pitch-laden cones without fouling the feathers that would cover the bill of most other jays.
Because local numbers of pinyon jays can vary so widely from one year to the next, it’s hard to track the overall population, but surveys indicate a general decline in recent decades. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes that: “Populations fell by 3.7% per year between 1966 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 85%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 770,000, with 99% living in the U.S., and 1% in Mexico. The pinyon jay is in the 2016 State of North America’s Birds’ Watch List, which includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. Destruction of pinyon-juniper habitat to create grazing land for cattle has caused the loss of many jays. Changes in fire regimes have resulted in the loss of many pinyon pines, threatening pinyon jay populations.”