Behavior-specific occurrence of pinyon jays in 3 Great Basin study areas and significance for PJ management

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The Pinyon Jay is a highly social, year-round inhabitant of pinyon-juniper and other coniferous woodlands in the western United States. Range-wide, Pinyon Jays have declined ~ 3-4% per year for at least the last half-century. Occurrence patterns and habitat use of Pinyon Jays have not been well characterized across much of the species’ range, and obtaining this information is necessary for better understanding the causes of ongoing declines and determining useful conservation strategies. Additionally, it is important to better understand if and how targeted removal of pinyon-juniper woodland, a common and widespread vegetation management practice, affects Pinyon Jays. The goal of this study was to identify the characteristics of areas used by Pinyon Jays for several critical life history components in the Great Basin, which is home to nearly half of the species’ global population, and to thereby facilitate the inclusion of Pinyon Jay conservation measures in the design of vegetation management projects. To accomplish this, we studied Pinyon Jays in three widely separated study areas using radio telemetry and direct observation and measured key attributes of their locations and a separate set of randomly-selected control sites using the U. S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory Analysis protocol. Data visualizations, principle components analysis, and logistic regressions of the resulting data indicated that Pinyon Jays used a distinct subset of available pinyon-juniper woodland habitat, and further suggested that Pinyon Jays used different but overlapping habitats for seed caching, foraging, and nesting. Caching was concentrated in low-elevation, relatively flat areas with low tree cover; foraging occurred at slightly higher elevations with generally moderate but variable tree cover; and nesting was concentrated in slightly higher areas with high tree and vegetation cover. All three of these Pinyon Jay behavior types were highly concentrated within the lower-elevation band of pinyon-juniper woodland close to the woodland-shrubland ecotone. Woodland removal projects in the Great Basin are often concentrated in these same areas, so it is potentially important to incorporate conservation measures informed by Pinyon Jay occurrence patterns into existing woodland management paradigms, protocols, and practices.

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