Pinyon Jay Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus

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


Powered by Macaulay Library and eBird

Welcome to Birds of the World!

You are currently viewing one of the free accounts available in our complimentary tour of Birds of the World. In this courtesy review, you can access all the life history articles and the multimedia galleries associated with this account.

For complete access to all accounts, a subscription is required.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in

Photos from this Account


Smaller, crestless jay with a long sharply pointed bill and shorter tail. Entirely dull blue, except for whitish chin.


The bill is longer and the tail shorter than other jays. Dull bluish gray overall.


Crestless dull blue jay with a long, pointed bill and short tail.


From below often looks grayish. Uses its long, pointed bill to access pine seeds.


Highly social. Breeds in colonies and forages in large flocks.


Found in groups in pinyon-juniper woodland, sagebrush, scrub oak, and chaparral.

Definitive Basic Pinyon Jay (16 April).

Medium-sized, crestless jay. Adult (Definitive Basic) plumage is entirely dull blue, except the chin, throat, and breast are streaked whitish; the inner webs of the primaries are black. Sexes are alike, except the crown is slightly deeper blue in males than females, and the bill averages longer in males.

Juvenile Pinyon Jay (17 June).

Plumage predominantly grayish. Nasal, orbital, frontal, and auricular regions, and lores, dull blackish slate. Wings and tail appear bluish dorsally; brighter and bluer than the rest of the upperpart plumage. Underparts slightly paler than upperparts, slate gray (with bluish or brownish cast), becoming distinctly whiter on lower abdomen.

Formative Pinyon Jay (14 June).

Formative Plumage is similar to Definitive Basic Plumage except duller and grayer overall. Retained juvenile rectrices of Formative Plumage are narrow and tapered, increasingly paler brown with wear. Primary coverts relatively grayish to brownish and usually without bluish fringes; replaced inner upperwing lesser, median, and greater coverts bluer, contrasting with retained juvenile outer coverts. Tertials and up to 3 additional inner secondaries can also be replaced, contrastingly new and bluish.

Definitive Basic Pinyon Jay (7 April).

Crown is deep blue, malar area is light blue. Body feathering is a pale blue, except for the white bib.

Presumably Definitive Basic Pinyon Jay (7 February).

Malar area is light blue except for the white bib. The bib has a series of feathers that begins at the base of bill and extends ventrally to the midbreast region. Bib length is correlated with age and sex (see text).

Pinyon Jay nesting and foraging habitat in persistent piñon-juniper woodlands, southern New Mexico.
Pinyon Jay nesting and foraging habitat in piñon-juniper savanna, central New Mexico.
Typical nesting and feeding habitat of the Pinyon Jay, Arizona.

Foreground: Typical nesting and feeding habitat of the Pinyon Jay, near San Francisco Peaks, Arizona (background).; photographer Russel P. Balda.

Pinyon Jay food cache site.

Pinyon Jay food cache site from which seeds have been recovered through a layer of snow. Pinyon Jays demonstrate exceptional spatial memory when searching for hidden seed caches. Note seed hulls (consumed seeds) next to site.

Pinyon pine seeds; key food items for Pinyon Jays.

Brown seeds are filled with "nut meat" while yellow hulled seeds are empty. Pinyon Jays know the difference and only extract and open the brown ones.

Pinyon Jay foraging.
Pinyon Jay foraging.
Pinyon Jay drinking.
Pinyon Jays drinking.
Pinyon Jays drinking.
Pinyon Jays in flight.
Pinyon Jay "Chin-Up" posture.
Pinyon Jay Courtship-Begging.
Pinyon Jay flock in flight.
Small group of Pinyon Jays.
Pinyon Jays mobbing Red-tailed Hawk.
Pinyon Jay nest, California.

Nest is an open cup, fairly large and bulky, consisting of an outer platform of sticks, a midlayer of course grasses, and an inner cup of fine, powdery materials. Specimen: San Jacinto Mountains, Riverside County, California. 23 April 1961. Ruler is in cm.; photographer Rene Corado.

Pinyon Jay clutch, Oregon.

The ground color of eggs is bluish white to pale blue, speckled or blotched with chocolate brown to reddish-brown spots, often concentrated on the large end. Specimen: Redmond, Deschutes County, Oregon. 10 April 1930. Ruler is in cm.; photographer Rene Corado.

Pinyon Jay nestling.
Juvenile Pinyon Jays.
Adult Pinyon Jay with juvenile.
Adult Pinyon Jay with begging juvenile.

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