Pinyon Jay Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus

Kristine Johnson and Russell P. Balda
Version: 2.0 — Published March 19, 2020


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Figure 1. The Pinyon Jay is resident in central Oregon (Klamath and Lake Counties north to Jefferson County; 44); mountains and arid slopes of eastern California (Siskiyou and Modoc Counties southeast to eastern Nevada County and eastern El Dorado County south to northern Kern and eastern San Bernardino Counties), and southern California (southwestern San Bernardino and western Riverside counties [45, 46, 47], though absent in San Diego County [48]), northern Baja California (Sierra de Juárez and Sierra San Pedro Mártir; 49), Nevada (throughout, except northwestern tier of counties; 50), southeastern Idaho (51), Utah, northern Arizona (south to central Mohave, northern Yavapai, and northern Graham counties (52); central portions of the southern half of Montana (53), western and central Wyoming (54); western South Dakota (mainly Black Hills but possibly other areas;55); northwestern Nebraska (summers in Scotts Bluff County and Pine Ridge region, including Sioux County, but breeding has only been recently documented in Nebraska; 56); western and southern Colorado (east to westernmost portions of Bent and Baca counties; 57), extreme western Oklahoma (Cimarron County; 58, 59); and portions of New Mexico west of the eastern plains (south to Mogollon and Sacramento highlands; 60). Although the species is closely associated with pinyon pines (Pinus edulis, P. monophylla, P. cembroides), in most areas, individuals found in areas north of the range of these trees inhabit woodlands and scrublands with ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa), junipers, and various chaparral vegetation.

The species generally winters throughout the breeding range, but when the pine-cone crop fails, it may irrupt into western Oregon, southern Washington, northern Idaho, central Montana, south to southeastern California, southeastern Arizona, northern Chihuahua, northern Sonora, western and central Texas, east to western Nebraska, and western Kansas; it is casual in North Dakota, coastal California to Santa Catalina Island (also to Death Valley and the southern Salton Sea; 47), and east to Iowa (eBird); a sight record exists for southwestern Saskatchewan (61).

Extralimital Records

No records outside North America.

Historical Changes to the Distribution

No changes to the rangewide distribution have been documented, but the consequences of vast areas of contiguous habitat destruction by government agencies probably caused major distributional shifts in 1940s–1960s before such changes were carefully documented. Following irruptions, some species may colonize new areas (62); however, no information exists on this for the Pinyon Jay. The Town Flock first appeared in Flagstaff, Arizona, in the early 1960s.

BBS data suggest that a few populations within the Pinyon Jay range may be increasing (though these are mainly in areas of limited population size), and populations over large areas show strong declines (Figure 4). In these areas of sharp, long-term population decline, Pinyon Jays may ultimately disappear.

Figure 1. Distribution of the Pinyon Jay.
  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Figure 1. Distribution of the Pinyon Jay.

This species wanders well outside this range in years when cone crops fail.

Pinyon Jay, Abundance map
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Data provided by eBird

Pinyon Jay

Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus


This map depicts the seasonally-averaged estimated relative abundance, defined as the expected count on an eBird Traveling Count starting at the optimal time of day with the optimal search duration and distance that maximizes detection of that species in a region.  Learn more

Relative abundance

Recommended Citation

Johnson, K. and R. P. Balda (2020). Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.pinjay.02