Pinyon Jay, Grand Canyon’s Forester

Pinyon Jay, Grand Canyon’s Forester

Dr. James J. S. Johnson


PINYON JAY (photo credit: Sally King / National park Service)

“And herein is that saying true:  one sowth and another reapeth.”  (John 4:37)

A wonderful way to appreciate the catastrophic impact of the Genesis Flood is to visit the Grand Canyon, in northern Arizona, a warm and arid panorama in America’s Great West. However, if you visit that grandiose canyonland, don’t rush off too quickly! Also visit a nearby testimony of God’s caring involvement in our world, the ‘pygmy forest’ just south of the Grand Canyon’s southern rim.

In addition to juniper evergreens, you will find short, scrubby trees called pinyon pines. They produce pine cones containing edible seeds. Maybe you don’t like to eat pinyon pine seeds, but an interesting blue-and-grey bird does. The pinyon jay is famous for eating its favorite fare — pinyon pine seeds.

But that is not the only relationship between the pinyon pine and the pinyon jay. The pinyon jay is also a type of forester, a tree farmer—the pinyon jay actually plants pinyon pines. But how?

Pinyon pine seeds are not planted by bird droppings, the way hard-coated seeds (such as indigestible cherry ‘pits’) are dropped out the ‘back door’ of flying birds, mixed with natural fertilizer. Bird droppings are one method God designed for some tree planting, but that is not the method He provided for planting pinyon pine trees.

Rather, the pinyon tree slowly manufactures large pine cones with seeds having a very thin seed coat. In fact, this coat is so thin that it allows a seed-eating bird to eat it and to digest the entire seed—so there is no left-over, plantable ‘pit’ (to be dropped from the birds) thereafter. Thus, once a pinyon seed is eaten by a pinyon jay (or by a Clark’s nutcracker, chipmunk, pine cone moth, or pine cone beetle) that’s it!

So how do the birds help plant the next generation of pine trees?


PINYON JAY on PINYON PINE (photo by Cagan Sekercioglu)

God carefully bioengineered (i.e., programmed) these birds to hide more seeds in the soil than they will subsequently eat.

The jays have an expandable pouch in which they can carry up to 56 seeds. So, a flock of 200 jays can quickly harvest 10,000 or more seeds from a stand of pinyon pine trees, especially if the trees have put out a ‘bumper crop’ of seeds (which the trees historically do, about every six years on average). The birds eat what they immediately need in order to survive, and then they bury the rest in the soil for future needs.

This periodic ‘bumper crop’ of pinyon pine seeds, and their burial by pinyon jays, has been studied for years. Says Dr. John Kricher, an American forest ecologist:

“At one well-documented site in the Southwest, pinyon seed bonanzas occurred in 1936, 1943, 1948, 1954, 1959, 1965, 1969 and 1974. In intervening years, seed crops were dramatically less. Pinyons in most areas have this roughly 6-year interval between heavy seed crops. …  Jays bury pinyon seeds—lots of pinyon seeds. In one study it was estimated that from September through January, a flock of 250 pinyon jays buried about 4.5 million pinyon seeds! They do not bury the seeds just anywhere. The jays tend to cache [hide] seeds in open areas, selecting sites near brush piles or fallen trees.” [Quoting John C. Kricher, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE ECOLOGY OF WESTERN FORESTS, Houghton Mifflin, New York, pages. 147–149.]

Thus, the jays even plant the seeds in places just right for new tree growth.

If the birds planted seeds at the base of tall, healthy trees, those trees would shield the new seedling from needed sunlight, and would likely absorb the scarce rainfall of this area, so the new sprouts would fail to thrive. Also, being planted near brush or fallen trees provides these seedlings with protection from gusty desert winds which might otherwise tear them out of the soil.


PINYON JAY perching (Audubon Field Guide)

When winter comes, the pinyon jays harvest many of their carefully hidden pinyon seeds. Many more, however, go unharvested. These seeds, forgotten by jays, become the next generation of pinyon pines.

Is this a picture of tooth-and-claw, selfish, survival-of-the-fittest accident-produced ‘evolution’? Hardly! This coöperative relationship between bird and tree, called ‘mutualistic symbiosis’ (or ‘mutual aid’) by ecologists, is the kind of system-ordered harmony God originally designed into His good creation. In fact even after the Fall, nature still displays more coöperation than competition.

The creation sings out an ecological symphony of praise to its Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Job instructs us to accept the teaching of the beasts and the birds, for such wildlife—by their very traits, behaviors, and generational cycles—instruct us with the answer to this question:

‘Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this?’ [Quoting Job 12:9]

[ The preceding avian ecology highlight was originally published as “Providential Planting: The Pinyon Jay,” Creation Ex Nihilo, 19 (3): 24-25 (summer 1997).  At present (AD2018), it now appears online at .  Slight editing was added by the author prior to re-posting here.  It should be noted that the Lord Jesus once used ravens (not Pinyon Jays — Matthew 6:26, clarified by Luke 12:24) as an example of a bird-kind that did not sow seeds for its own food — please see “Hidden Assumptions Play ‘Hide-and-Seek’:  Using Context and Clarification to ‘Tag’ Bible Critics”, ACTS & FACTS, 39(6):8-9 (June 2010), now posted at .   ><>  JJSJ ]


PINYON JAY (Wikipedia photograph)


Cattle Egrets, Cattle, and Other Herbivore Neighbors

Cattle Egret In Breeding Plumage by Dan

Cattle Egret In Breeding Plumage by Dan

Cattle Egrets, Cattle, and Other Herbivore Neighbors

~ by James J. S. Johnson

For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Romans 13:9)

Being a good neighbor is a standard to live by. And good neighbors help one another. As Romans 13:9 indicates, it’s a norm for how to treat one’s neighbors.

To some extent, this type of “win-win” situation sometimes occurs in nature, as is often (though not always) illustrated by the relationships of some birds — the best examples are Cattle Egrets with domestic Cattle, as well as with other large mammal herbivores (such as bison, water buffalo, bison, horses, zebras, giraffes, antelope, etc.), as the large mammals graze in tall grasses where bothersome insects and parasitic ticks abound.

Cattle Egret picks bugs off face of bovine “neighbor” (cow)

It should be no surprise that Cattle Egrets associate with cattle, picking (at and eating) bugs that pester those noble (and vulnerable) bovines.

The term used by ecologists, for this “win-win” relationship, is mutualistic symbiosis. In other words, they help each other as good neighbors should!

When cattle egrets tag along with cattle, whose quadrupedal movement through pastures (or non-agricultural grasslands) stir up insects or all kinds, the cattle egrets opportunistically snap up the dislodged bugs. Likewise, Cattle Egrets are not shy about perching atop cattle, to eat whatever insects or ticks (or insect larvae) may be trespassing on beleaguered bovine bodies.

The benefit to the birds is obvious – convenient meals, either on the bovine skin or in the stirred grasses that bovine feet brush against (causing bugs in the grass to show themselves as moving targets as they flee the bovine hooves). Yet the benefit inures to the cattle, too, because they have no hands to dislodge the pestering bugs (many of which are noxious parasites) off their backs – or to shoo away bugs that initially flit about near their feet, perhaps soon to light upon the bovine’s legs or back, to do what many bugs do – such as blood-sucking fleas or ticks or mosquitoes. The bugs really bug the bovines! – some are annoying parasites! – so the insectivorous habits of the bug-munching birds are a welcome-relief-providing blessing to the cattle.

Actually, the Cattle Egret is an African emigrant – Cattle Egrets migrated from Africa to South American almost a century ago. (See range map showing migration.) Migrating northward, Cattle Egrets quickly colonized the southern regions of North America too.

[Fair Use image credit: ]
A few examples are given below, using a “photo-journalism” approach – the pictures tell it all, or at least tell a lot!

Click on a photo to see the Gallery.

CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis), of North and South America, most of Africa, and parts of southern Asia and coastal Australia .

More examples could be given – but this is enough to illustrate the trend!

Cattle Egret in breeding plumage – that’s a wrap! ©

Cattle Egret in breeding plumage – that’s a wrap! ©

(Surely God smiled, when He thought that one up!)

><> JJSJ



Birds of the Bible – Honeyguide?

Brown-backed (Wahlberg's) Honeybird (Prodotiscus regulus) byWiki

Brown-backed (Wahlberg’s) Honeybird (Prodotiscus regulus) byWiki

The Honeyguide is an interesting bird. They are not mentioned specifically in the Bible by “name”, but all birds are mentioned whether named or not. The Lord God created all of them on the fifth day and declared them good.

And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. (Genesis 1:21-23 KJV)

Honeyguides love the honey, wax, larvae or whatever else is found in the honeycomb. In fact, it was created with such a cooperative instinct, that it helps others find the honey and in return, it gets fed also. The scientist today call it “mutualism” or “sembiotic relationship”. There is a Honey Badger (Ratal) that can’t see so well but loves the same things in the honeycomb and the Honeyguide “guides” it to the honey source. The bird first finds the bee’s nest, but since it is too weak to tear the comb apart, it finds the badger. Then by flitting its wings and making a fuss, it slowly leads the critter to the nest. He or she, does the hard work. The badger tears the bee’s nest apart with its paws and enjoys the meal. There is always enough left over that the bird gets its share of the meal also. Of course God has given the badger its instinct to let the bird lead it to honey also. They both need each other to make this work.

The bird has also been known to lead humans to a honey source. “One researcher found use of honeyguides by the Boran people of East Africa reduces the search time of people for honey by approximately two-thirds. Because of this benefit, the Boran use a specific loud whistle, known as the “Fuulido”, when a search for honey is about to begin. The “Fuulido” doubles the encounter rate with honeyguides” (Wikipedia)

Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24 KJV)
My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste: (Proverbs 24:13 KJV)

The Lord Jesus even was served fish and a honeycomb after His resurrection.

And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. (Luke 24:42 KJV)

Yellow-rumped Honeyguide (Indicator xanthonotus) by A Grosset

Yellow-rumped Honeyguide (Indicator xanthonotus) by A Grosset

The Honeyguide is in the Indicatoridae Family which has 17 members and are in the Piciformes Order. Recently three of the birds were changed from Honeyguides to Honeybirds, but they all love honey. Most honeyguides are dull-colored, though a few have bright yellow in the plumage. All have light outer tail feathers, which are white in all the African species. The two honeyguides, the Greater Honeyguide and the Scaly-throated Honeyguide, are the most studied for this behavior.

The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (Psalms 19:9-10 KJV)

See Also:

Birds of the Bible

Creation Moments – Helpful Honeyguide

Wikipedia – Honeyguides
Don Roberson’s Bird Families of the World – Honeyguides Indicatoridae