Friday, October 16, 2015

Pinyon Jays at Lava Beds National Monument

It was such an intriguing morning. There are few sources of water in Lava Beds National Monument, as what little water there is sinks into the fissures and cracks of the lava flows. One secure source is the collection pit beneath the water faucets in the park campground. When the sun came up, we were greeted with the cacophony of birds waiting their turn at the water. They seemed to follow a pecking order as the species seemed to change every few minutes. We've already seen the Robins and Red Crossbills. Soon after they took off, a large flock of boisterous Pinyon Jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) arrived and took their turn at the water.
Pinyon Jays are creatures of the Pinyon-Juniper woodlands. They've been seen in our county, but not by me. This was my first encounter with them since I began birding. They're smart and social birds, often traveling in large flocks. They mostly eat pine seeds and spend a lot of time hiding them. They are a threatened species because their favored habitat is threatened. Hundreds of thousands of acres of Pinyon-Juniper woodland has been stripped and burned across the western United States in an effort to increase grazing acreage for ranchers.
The Pinyon Jays have some evolutionary adaptations that help them utilize their favored food supply. They have a long strong bill for probing cones for seeds, and lack feathers over their nostrils, allowing them to deal with sap in a more efficient manner.
They are beautiful birds. There were a few others that morning in the bird parade. Watch for future posts!

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