Tufted jay (Cyanocorax dickeyi)

Also known as: chara pinta, Dickey’s Jay
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyCorvidae
GenusCyanocorax (1)
SizeLength: 37 cm (2)
Weight176 g (2)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

The tufted jay is a strikingly beautiful relative of crows, named for the unmistakable stiff, fan-shaped crest of feathers on its head. The crest is black, blending into dark blue toward the base of the feathers. Gleaming white patches above and below the eye and at the back of the neck, along with the white underparts, appear in stark contrast to the dark blue of the rest of the plumage. The long, rather broad tail is also almost entirely white and is graduated at the tip (2) (3). The bill and legs are black and the irises are bright yellow. Juvenile tufted jays have a shorter crest than adults, dark eyes and a flesh-coloured bill base. The tufted jay makes a variety of sounds, and often mimics other noises, but its typical call is a staccato ‘chuk-chuk’ or ‘ca-ca-ca-ca’ (2)

The tufted jay occurs only in a small mountainous area of north-west Mexico, on the Pacific slope of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range (2) (4).

Tufted jays inhabit pine-oak forests on the hillsides and ridges of canyons, and dense deciduous and evergreen forest along rivers and streams in the valley bottoms, at elevations between 1,350 and 2,150 metres (2).

A highly social bird, the beautiful tufted jay lives in flocks of 4 to 16 individuals. The larger flocks often break up into smaller groups as the breeding season commences at the end of March, to form flocks of an adult breeding pair and several immature birds. These small breeding groups cooperate in the task of raising a brood, starting with each bird in the flock gathering sticks, twigs and plant fibres for the breeding female. From these materials, the female will build a bulky nest, adorning the rim with fresh, green leaves. The nest is generally situated 5 to 15 meters above the ground, hidden in the dense canopy of a shaded tree (2).

Between April and May, a clutch of three to five dull, greenish-white eggs is laid, which are patterned with brown speckles and blotches and little pale purplish markings. The eggs are incubated for 18 to 19 days, during which time the male will spend a good part of his day guarding the nest. When the eggs have hatched, the whole flock becomes active once more, busily flying to and from the nest with food for the new chicks (2).

The tufted jay feeds on a variety of invertebrates, fruit, berries and acorns, which it forages for primarily in the tree canopy, rarely descending to the ground. It has been seen probing and tearing apart clumps of vegetation to extract berries and acorns, and will even hang upside-down briefly or hover while feeding. For several hours in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its hottest, the tufted jay will take a break from its activities and will rest or preen in the cool of a shady spot (2).

The small range of the tufted jay makes it very vulnerable to any threats it may face (2). Presently, this comes in the form of forest destruction, which, while it may be impacting the tufted jay to some extent, the mountainous forest it inhabits is relatively inaccessible and thus less suitable for logging and conversion to agriculture as surrounding areas. There are also reports of this uncommon bird being hunted for fun by schoolboys (4).

In 2005, a small logging cooperative, together with the non-governmental organisation Pronatura Noroeste and government agencies, created a preserve to protect the habitat of the tufted jay (5) (6). The logging cooperative realised the need to protect the forest and its inhabitants for the spiritual and financial benefit of future generations, and saw the value in ecotourism (5). This preserve now protects more than 5,000 hectares of the tufted jay’s habitat, and further conservation measures for the region have been proposed, including environmental education and the development of alternative economic activities (6).

For further information on the Tufted Jay Preserve:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Madge, S. and Burn, H. (1994) Crows and Jays. A Guide to the Crows, Jays and Magpies of the World. Christopher Helm Ltd, London.
  3. Moore, R.T. (1935) A new jay of the genus Cyanocorax from Sinaloa, Mexico. The Auk, 52: 274 - 277.
  4. BirdLife International (May, 2008)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=5713&m=0
  5. Tufted Jay Preserve (May, 2008)
    http://www.tufted-jay-preserve.org/
  6. Pronatura Noroeste (May, 2008)
    http://www.pronatura-noroeste.org/index_eng.php