This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the pinyon jay.
Highly social pinyon jays arrive in large, noisy flocks. They have evolved in an interdependent relationship with the pinyon pine. The trees provide the nuts that are a staple of their diet and, in turn, the birds disperse the large, wingless seeds over long distances. When cones are abundant, each bird may store thousands of seeds in caches located underground or in tree cavities. The small percentage of buried seeds not eaten are the source of new trees.
One of the earliest nesting passerines in North America, when food is abundant, they begin nesting in early February. Fledglings of the flock are gathered in a large group known as a creche, where somehow parents recognize and feed their own chicks. Individuals usually remain with the flock they are born into.
Pinyon jays are entirely dusky blue with the exception of whitish coloring on the chin. They are crestless with relatively short tails and long, pointed bills. Lack of feathering over their nostrils allows them to probe sticky pine cones without covering feathers with sap. Pinyon jays closely resemble the scrub jays found in Pagosa Springs. A trip to the pinyon-juniper forests of the Navajo Lake area is the closest place to find them in our area.
Pinyon jay numbers have experienced one of the steepest declines of any bird in North America, around an 80 percent loss in the last 50 years. Fueled by climate change, long-term drought is killing pinyon pines as are forest management policies which clear pinyon-juniper forests for cattle grazing.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.