Clark’s Nutcracker

Nucifraga columbiana

Clark’s Nutcracker
Photo courtesy of Tom Grey

A Clark’s Nutcracker is often heard before seen. Nutcrackers make a raucous attention getting noise, but have a wide repertoire of sounds. Each call is usually associated with a particular activity.

Description:
A medium-sized bird; almost crow sized. Flashing gray and white pattern—light gray body. White patches on black wings and tails conspicuous during flight. Stoutly built body, long tail; long, sharply pointed bill. Dark eye. 12-13 in (30-33 cm)
Voice:
A guttural kra-a-a, kra-a-a, kra-a-a.
Food:
Nutcrackers are omnivores, feeding on a variety of plants and animals, but pine nuts are their most important energy source. They open nuts with their bills or by wedging them in a crevice, or holding them with their feet and cracking them open. They also eat seeds, insects, spiders, bird eggs, and small mammals. Nutcrackers are known to cache tens of thousands of seeds into rock crevices, tree hollows or even bury them. Some of these seeds eventually germinate. They have become scavengers at campsites and picnic areas. Nutcrackers have a special cheek pouch under the tongue that can hold several nuts.
Nest:
Nest in trees, made of twigs and bark, usually 8-40 ft above ground. A clutch of 2-6 eggs, pale green, sparingly marked with brown, gray and lavender. Both male & female birds actively build the nest and incubate eggs. Nutcrackers mate for life. Because they live in cold climates, one parent (usually female) must remain on eggs at all times in order to keep cold temperatures from destroying the developing embryos.
Habitat:
Coniferous forests near timberline.
Range:
Found throughout western mountains; 5,000 to 10,000 ft in southern ranges, somewhat lower elevation in more northern mountains; southern British Columbia, Alberta through Great Basin south to AZ and NM.
Migration:
Nutcrackers are erratic winter wanderers.
Comments:
Named from the Lewis and Clark expedition.