Cyanocoraxtufted jays


Cyanocorax is a genus of New World jays located primarily in South America. Cyanocorax contains seventeen species that are very diverse in their morphology and colorization. They are known to act like typical jays with similar vocalizations. Many live in cooperative groups. There is even hybridization between some species. They live in drier neotropical forests ranging from the south of North America to Argentina. Due to their diversity, Cyanocorax has gone through many changes in the format of their phylogenetic tree. Today, they have two clades with Psilorhinus morio and Calocitta part of one of the clades. With such a large diversity, there is more information about Cyanocorax that still hasn't been discovered. (Apolinario and Fabio Silveira, 2019; Barros, et al., 2014; Bonaccorso, 2007; Bonaccorso, et al., 2010; Hope, 1989)

Geographic Range

Cyanocorax can be found from the southern United States to the west side of Ecuador and east of Brazil all the way south to Argentina. (Bonaccorso, 2007; Bonaccorso, et al., 2010)


Cyanocorax live in drier neotropical forests. They build nests in the trees or thick brush. The nests are typically circular and are built with twigs, roots, branches, fiber. Sometimes, they will add litter to the nest. Cyanocorax forage in the trees and the ground. Not much is known on how they forage but some species are known to follow ants. They eat the insects the ants chase out and the ants themselves. (Barros, et al., 2014; Bonaccorso, 2007; Bonaccorso, et al., 2010; Gordon and Ornelas, 2000; Gustavo Rodrigues França and Da Silva Braz Biotemas, 2009; Hope, 1989; Lasky and Keitt, 2010; Uejima, et al., 2012)

Systematic and Taxonomic History

Due to the diverse morphology, Cyanocorax has undergone many changes. At first it was split into four groups Xanthoura, Cissilopha, Uroleuca, and Cyanocorax. Calocitta and Psilorhinus were once considered to be subgenera to Cyanocorax but are now considered to be their own taxa and sister to Cyanocorax. Recently, researchers have been using molecular data to try to piece together a tree using five different genes. These genes are used as synapomorphies for the tree since morphologically, Cyanocorax are too diverse. Cyanocorax is paraphyletic but ends up being monophyletic if Calocitta and Psilorhinus are included. (Bonaccorso, 2007; Bonaccorso, et al., 2010; Reich, et al., 2010)

  • Synonyms
    • Xanthoura
    • Cissilopha
    • Uroleuca
    • Calocitta
    • Psilorhinus
  • Synapomorphies
    • ND2
    • cytb
    • AK5
    • ßfib7
    • TGFß2.5

Physical Description

Cyanocorax species have a large variety in sizes, morphology, and coloration. Some species are small jays with bright facial markings and long, spiked frontal crests except Cyanocorax chrysops which have a long bristly frontal crest. These small jays are dark blue except for Cyanocorax yncas which are green. The rest are large jays with planer facial markings and short, lax frontal crests except for Cyanocorax cristatellus which have a curly frontal crest. These big jays are dark blue, purple, or brown. (Hope, 1989; Ridgely and Tudor, 1989)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike


Cyanocorax are cooperative breeders where there is one primary female that mates with multiple males. Juveniles from previous broods will stay with the group to help with future broods. Females will typically stay with the group for their entire lives as helpers while males leave to join a different group after one to two years. The oldest female is the breeder and will suppress the other females from breeding. Establishing a breeding pair is unique in each species but there are some similarities. The most common ways for a pair to bond is through allopreening and allofeeding. The mating dances are done on a perch and are a mix of head and body bobbing, feather fluffing or erecting, tail movements, and vocalizations. Defenses are done as a group by mobbing a predator until it retreats. (Apolinario and Fabio Silveira, 2019; Bosque and Molina, 2002; Reich, et al., 2010; Uejima, et al., 2012; Williams, 2004)

Reproduction in Cyanocorax has only been studied in a few species but there are similarities. These jays do communal breeding where there is one breeding pair. The rest of the jays are family members that stay with the breeding pair to protect and raise the young. Incubation lasts about 20 days while fledging occurs around one month. It can take about two years after fledging for a juvenile to mature into an adult. The season of breeding is in the spring and sometimes summer. The size of the clutch is around two to five eggs. Fertilization occurs internally in the primary female. The primary female is the only one that breeds with multiple males. Sometimes secondary females are able to breed but it rarely occurs. Multiple birds have access to the nest with no aggression occurring in the group. There has been some hybridization recorded between sister species but it rarely occurs. (Apolinario and Fabio Silveira, 2019; Bosque and Molina, 2002; Reich, et al., 2010; Uejima, et al., 2012; Williams, 2004)

Cyanocorax parents put a lot of investment into their young. They are cooperative breeders where previous offspring help their parents raise future offspring. All members of the group provide food and protection to the brood. The primary female will incubate the eggs and will sometimes switch with other females. The young are completely dependent on the group until they fledge. After fledging, they learn how to hunt and protect the nest from the older group members. They still have to be fed and protected by the group for one to two months. After two years, the males leave to find a different group while the females stay as helpers. (Apolinario and Fabio Silveira, 2019; Bosque and Molina, 2002; Reich, et al., 2010; Uejima, et al., 2012; Williams, 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
    • protecting
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
    • protecting
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
    • protecting
  • post-independence association with parents
  • maternal position in the dominance hierarchy affects status of young


Cyanocorax species have a variety of lifespans based on size. Small species like Cyanocorax yncas can live up to 12 years while large species like Cyanocorax caeruleus can live up to 40 years. (Planck-Gesellschaft, 2002; Reich, et al., 2010)


Cyanocorax species are social birds that live in cooperative groups. They forage and travel together. Some species form mixed species flocks. There is a social hierarchy based on who gets to breed in the group. There is usually one mating pair, where the mating female has dominance over other females. They build nests in trees and forage in the trees and ground. Their nests are built with sticks and twigs on the outside with roots and fiber on the inside. The sticks provide strength while the roots make the nest more comfortable. Sometimes they will use other materials based on what is available. Some species follow groups of ants as a food source. They will eat the insects that the ants chase out of their homes or the ants themselves. Only the young are known to face predation because they cannot fly and have no physical defenses that are fully developed. Adults protect young by mobbing predators until they retreat. Cyanocorax species are noisy and communicate using unique vocalizations. Each species have their own way to find a mate. They will bob their head and body, move their feathers, and make specific vocalizations. Sometimes the male will bring the female food and they will allopreen. They are most active in the day. (Apolinario and Fabio Silveira, 2019; Barros, et al., 2014; Bonaccorso, 2007; Bosque and Molina, 2002; Gustavo Rodrigues França and Da Silva Braz Biotemas, 2009; Hope, 1989; Reich, et al., 2010; Ridgely and Tudor, 1989; Uejima, et al., 2012; Williams, 2004)

Communication and Perception

Cyanocorax species communicate and perceive the world primarily through vision and sounds. They can see the color spectrum but they can also see UV light. Vision is used for foraging and communication. Visuals are mostly used for courtships where both sexes bob their head and body, move their feathers, and turn their head. Each type of dance is unique to each species. For vocalizations, it is their main form of communication. Adults use vocalizations as alarms, mimicry, or to find mates. Young Cyanocorax use it to beg for food or seek protection. Each species has a unique set of calls that can help distinguish them from other species. Cyanocorax species are known to be loud during the day due to how social they are. They can range from ringing to chittering to clicking. (Barros, et al., 2014; Berger, 2012; Bosque and Molina, 2002; Hope, 1989; Reich, et al., 2010; Ridgely and Tudor, 1989; Uejima, et al., 2012)

Food Habits

Cyanocorax species have a diverse diet. They are omnivores that feast on arthropods, berries, other small fruits, nuts, acorns, and seeds. Some species will even eat the eggs of other bird species and lizards. Some are also known to follow army ants so that they can eat the insects the army ants flush out of their hiding places or the ants themselves. Some species store and cache their food. (Barros, et al., 2014; Gustavo Rodrigues França and Da Silva Braz Biotemas, 2009; Reich, et al., 2010; Uejima, et al., 2012)


Cyanocorax species have many predators. They are mainly hunted when they are juveniles and are unable to protect themselves. This is why adults stay with young until they are mature. Cyanocorax species live in social groups and mob predators. Nesting adults send out a warning call if a predator is near so that foraging adults can return to mob the predator. Common predators are snakes(Lepidosauria), hawks(Accipitridae), owls(Strigidae), tree squirrels(Sciuridae), iguanas(Iguanidae), and crows(Corvidae). (Bosque and Molina, 2002; Reich, et al., 2010)

Ecosystem Roles

Cyanocorax species are omnivores that help control the arthropod populations. They are also a source of prey for snakes, hawks, owls, crows, iguanas, and tree squirrels. Cyanocorax species are commensalistic with army ants. They follow army ants and eat the prey they flush out and sometimes the ants themselves. Cyanocorax species are also a host to nematodes such as Viktorocara species. Since they eat seeds, this helps with the dispersal of seeds of smaller fruits and nuts. (Pinto, et al., 1997; Reich, et al., 2010)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Viktorocara

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Due to how colorful Cyanocorax species are, they helped increase ecotourism in South America. Scientists recently have started to get molecular data on them to trace back their history and figure out their tree due to how often it is changed. Their feathers are also a valuable material used for fashion and decorations. Since they eat arthropods, Cyanocorax species help control pest populations in their range. (Reich, et al., 2010)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • ecotourism
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Cyanocorax species are a main reason to stop deforestation but at an economic cost to the community who have to use more economic methods that tend to be more expensive. (Reich, et al., 2010)

Conservation Status

Most Cyanocorax species are considered Least Concern by BirdLife International with some being Near Threatened on the 2009 IUCN Red List Category and some being Threatened or Endangered under Mexican Law. The biggest threats to the Cyanocorax species are deforestation, unsustainable logging, and clearing for agricultural, drug, and grazing purposes. Currently, some Cyanocorax species are being protected by different communities as a way to promote ecotourism. Cyanocorax dickeyi is a good example of a community coming together to form a conservation plan in Concordia to protect it. Some species like Cyanocorax violaceus have benefited from deforestation because they prefer to live in forest edge habitats. (Gordon and Ornelas, 2000; Reich, et al., 2010)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Other Comments

Cyanocorax species have been a good taxon to use for molecular research. This is due to its diverse morphology and little research on behavior. Genomic information has helped increase the understanding of the relationships within Cyanocorax species and its sister taxa. Researchers are now starting to focus on the breeding, social, and foraging behaviors of each Cyanocorax species. (Reich, et al., 2010)


Mychaela Hodous (author), Colorado State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


to jointly display, usually with sounds in a highly coordinated fashion, at the same time as one other individual of the same species, often a mate


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


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