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Earth Notes: Pinyon Jays and Specialty Brews

Artwork of a pinyon jay in a dying tree
Hira Walker
Audubon Southwest
Artwork of a pinyon jay in a dying tree

Pinyon jays are sky blue birds that live in large flocks in the pinyon-juniper woodlands of the Colorado Plateau. They are not officially endangered, but their populations have plummeted in the last half-century. The Audubon Society has found an unusual way to raise awareness about their plight: specialty brews from the Drinking Horn Meadery in Arizona, and the Bosque Brewing Company in New Mexico.

Starting this Friday, customers will be able to order the limited edition brews, which are flavored with honey, prickly pear, and juniper berries. Both the mead and the wheat beer brew are called “Oh Hey, Pinyon Jay.”

The labels feature a bird perched in a dying pinyon pine, and give information about how to sign up for a community science project. Participants don’t need to be expert birders. They will learn how to identify pinyon jays, select a survey area, and then simply take a stroll in the woods.

The data collected from the project will help fill up a database run by the Great Basin Bird Observatory. Scientists there have been studying the range and populations of these ecologically significant birds for more than a decade. Pinyon jays have a habit of caching pinyon nuts to snack on later, and then forgetting where the nuts are hidden… which means, they help plant the next generation of trees.

Drought and climate change are likely contributors to the widespread loss of pinyon pines, as well as the birds that rely on them. But ordinary people can help make sure the pinyon jay doesn’t disappear—starting with a cold brew this summer.

This Earth Note was written by Melissa Sevigny and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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