Pinyon Jays

Click for larger picture, Pinyon Jay courtesy and copyright 2005 Marlene Foard - as found on www.utahbirds.org
Pinyon Jay, Tabiona, Utah
Courtesy and Copyright © 2005 Marlene Foard
As found on UtahBirds.org

Few birds have such a strong association with one plant that the plants name becomes part of the birds name. Sage grouse is one, Acorn Woodpecker another, but the Pinyon Jay is our topic today. Pinyon Jays are usually found in close association with pinyon-juniper forests throughout the Great Basin and the nutritious nuts of the pinyon pine are their preferred food. The blue and grey birds collect and cache pinyon nuts in summer and fall for later consumption. They have an uncanny recovery accuracy and excellent spatial memory, which allows them to rediscover these scattered caches and eat pinyon nuts all year. They do not recover all the stored seeds, however, and therefore aid in the dispersal of pinyon pines.

Pinyon Jays have a complex social organization and are highly gregarious. [Pinyon Jay Audio Courtesy Kevin Colver]

They spend their lives in large flocks of up to 150 or more individuals. Nesting is communal, although rarely are there more than 2 or 3 nests per tree. Breeding season is in late winter. Many birds spend their entire lives in the flock into which they were born.

Click for larger picture, Pinyon Jay courtesy USDA Forest Service, Photographer Dave Herr
Pinyon Jay
Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer

Pinyon Jays are not migratory, but they tend to be nomadic; traveling to wherever there is a good crop of pinyon nuts. They will also eat a wide variety of seeds, insects and berries to supplement their diet and can be found in adjoining sagebrush, ponderosa pine forest and riparian habitats. The conservation status of Pinyon Jays is considered vulnerable. Destruction of pinyon-juniper forests for grazing and changes in fire regimes have resulted in loss of habitat. And what is a Pinyon Jay to do without its pinyon nuts?

Thank-you to Kevin Colver for the use of his bird recordings.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:
Pictures: Courtesy and Copyright © 2005 Marlene Foard, as found on utahbirds.org
Also Courtesy Find-a-Photo, USDA Forest Service, Photographer Dave Herr
Bird Recordings: Kevin Colver 7loons.com
Text: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus (Pinyon Jay), Fire Effects Information, USDA Forest Service, http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/bird/gycy/all.html

Avian Cognition Laboratory, Northern Arizona University, http://www4.nau.edu/acl/index.htm

Pinyon Jays, Utah Bird Profiles, UtahBirds.org, http://utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsL-R/PinyonJay.htm

Cache and Retrieve

Clark’s Nutcracker
Nucifraga columbiana

Courtesy Steven Pavlov
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
 

Common Raven
Corvus corax

Courtesy US FWS
Gary M. Stolz, Photographer
 

Hi I’m Holly Strand.

Every year, just before Christmas, I comb through the house looking for presents hidden earlier in the year. I check inside old shoes, unfold towels in the closet, and peer way back into the dark recesses of seldomly-used cabinets. With a child in the house, you have to be tricky! The problem with this complex gift stashing behavior is that sometimes I forget where I hid the present when it’s time to wrap it! And once in awhile I forget that I bought something at all! Out of sight—out of mind!

You wouldn’t make a very good magpie, I have been told. For magpies– along with jays, crows and ravens, are masters at hiding–or caching as it’s called– and then retrieving. Of course, what they cache is not Christmas presents but food.

One Utah bird that is much admired for its caching and retrieving skills is Clark’s nutcracker . This large jay lives in mountainous areas throughout the west. Experts say that Clark’s nutcracker can cache 10s of thousands of pinyon, whitebark or limber pine seeds in a single season. Starting in August, the bird will hide 1-15 seeds at a time, often distributing them several kilometers and at much different elevations from the original tree. Caches lie 1-3 centimeters deep in forest litter, bare soil, under bark, in holes, in logs or stumps.

As winter wears on, the nutcracker will retrieve its caches with the help of visual landmarks such as rocks, trees or logs. Using these visual cues, the nutcracker will retrieve the seeds through summer of the following year. Forgotten or abandoned seed caches often germinate, growing into trees that produce more food.

Just as I worry about prying eyes when I hide Christmas presents, birds who cache must be careful to notice who is watching. The common raven is notorious for its spying and thieving behavior. One raven will covertly observe while another caches scraps of meat, eggs, bones or seeds. The observer will then shamelessly raid the cache usually within a couple of days. But having probably raided someone else at some point, the caching raven is on the lookout too. If the caching raven senses the presence of a would-be looter, it might wait for the other bird to become preoccupied. Or it may move the food to a different site altogether. Caching ravens will also hide behind some structure to avoid being seen.

Interestingly, these sly birds will even engage in fake caching. Ravens will cache inedible or low value food items in plain view of other ravens but then stash the good stuff in secret. Fake caching seems designed to throw looters off track, . But perhaps it’s also a character test for fellow ravens? Or maybe—for the intelligent raven—it’s all just an amusing shell game?

For sources and pictures for this and past stories, go to www.wildaboututah.org

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Wikimedia/ Steven Pavlov, Photographer
and Courtesy US FWS, Gary M. Stolz, Photographer
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:

Balda, R.P. & Kamil, A.C. 1989. A comparative study of cache recovery by three corvid species. Animal Behaviour 37: 486-495.

Boarman, William I. and Bernd Heinrich. 1999. Common Raven (Corvus corax), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/476 .

Bugnyarf, Thomas and Kurt Kotrschal. 2001. Observational learning and the raiding of food caches in ravens,Corvus corax: is it ‘tactical’ deception? Animal Behavior, Volume 64, Issue 2, August 2002, Pages 185–195.

Heinrich, Bernd and John W. Pepper. 1998. Influence of competitors on caching behaviour in the common raven, Corvus corax . Animal Behaviour. Vol. 56, 1083–1090

Marzluff, John and Tony Angell. 2005. In the Company of Crows and Ravens. Yale University Press. http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=0300100760

Tomback, Diana F. 1998. Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/331 .

Pinyon Jays

Pinyon Jay, Tabiona, Utah
Courtesy and Copyright © 2005 Marlene Foard
As found on UtahBirds.org

Few birds have such a strong association with one plant that the plants name becomes part of the birds name. Sage grouse is one, Acorn Woodpecker another, but the Pinyon Jay is our topic today. Pinyon Jays are usually found in close association with pinyon-juniper forests throughout the Great Basin and the nutritious nuts of the pinyon pine are their preferred food. The blue and grey birds collect and cache pinyon nuts in summer and fall for later consumption. They have an uncanny recovery accuracy and excellent spatial memory, which allows them to rediscover these scattered caches and eat pinyon nuts all year. They do not recover all the stored seeds, however, and therefore aid in the dispersal of pinyon pines.

Pinyon Jays have a complex social organization and are highly gregarious. [Pinyon Jay Audio Courtesy Kevin Colver]

They spend their lives in large flocks of up to 150 or more individuals. Nesting is communal, although rarely are there more than 2 or 3 nests per tree. Breeding season is in late winter. Many birds spend their entire lives in the flock into which they were born.

Pinyon Jay
Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer

Pinyon Jays are not migratory, but they tend to be nomadic; traveling to wherever there is a good crop of pinyon nuts. They will also eat a wide variety of seeds, insects and berries to supplement their diet and can be found in adjoining sagebrush, ponderosa pine forest and riparian habitats. The conservation status of Pinyon Jays is considered vulnerable. Destruction of pinyon-juniper forests for grazing and changes in fire regimes have resulted in loss of habitat. And what is a Pinyon Jay to do without its pinyon nuts?

Thank-you to Kevin Colver for the use of his bird recordings.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:
Pictures: Courtesy and Copyright © 2005 Marlene Foard, as found on utahbirds.org
Also Courtesy Find-a-Photo, USDA Forest Service, Photographer Dave Herr
Bird Recordings: Kevin Colver 7loons.com
Text: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus (Pinyon Jay), Fire Effects Information, USDA Forest Service, http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/bird/gycy/all.html

Avian Cognition Laboratory, Northern Arizona University, http://www4.nau.edu/acl/index.htm

Pinyon Jays, Utah Bird Profiles, UtahBirds.org, http://utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsL-R/PinyonJay.htm