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Individual Highlight

Pinyon Jays: Orchardists of the Great Basin’s Woodlands

Photo of Flock of pinyon jays in juniper tree. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Flock of pinyon jays in juniper tree. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : Expansion of pinyon-juniper woodlands into neighboring shrublands and grasslands can have detrimental impacts to species that prefer treeless areas, while infilling existing woodland areas changes the structure of woodland stands and can have negative effects on species that prefer lower stem densities.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Witt, ChristopherBird, Benjamin
Frescino, Tracey 
Research Location : Great Basin, Nevada, Idaho, Intermountain West
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 994


One species with a close ecological relationship to pinyon pine is the pinyon jay. Pinyon jays consume large quantities of pinyon pine seeds when they become available in late summer and early autumn. When seeds are plentiful, individual jays will cache thousands of them for use in the winter and spring nesting season. Many of these seeds are not recovered and, depending on where they were placed, will germinate and contribute to expansion into new areas or infilling of existing stands.

Surprisingly, this intelligent, social bird has seen a steady decline in their rangewide population during the same period of contemporary woodland expansion. To gain a better understanding of how pinyon jays use the woodland, how they select cache sites, and how they might they facilitate the expansion and infill of pinyon pine stands, Forest Service scientists used Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis techniques to describe where jays cached pinyon pine seeds and what structural features appear to be important for cache site selection.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • John Boone, Great Basin Bird Observatory
  • U.S. National Park Service
  • Wallace Keck