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Clark's Nutcracker

Named after William Clark who observed the bird during the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805.


Identification and Pictures

(Nucifraga columbiana) Clark's Nutcracker

A member of the crow family Clark's nutcracker has the build of a small crow and is about 12 to 13 inches.  It has a light gray body, white patches in black wings, and tail.  Its long sharp bill is perfect for extracting nuts from pine cones.  Juveniles are similar to adult, but are buff gray with dull black or brown wings.

They have a pouch under their tongue that they use to carry pine seeds long distances where they cache them for later use.  Caches are generally buried in the soil on exposed slopes.  They will hide thousands of seeds, and studies show the bird will remember where it hides most of them as much as 9 months later.Clark's Nutcracker

Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

Clark's nutcracker is sometimes mistaken for Gray Jays but the lay does not have the white wing patches and has a much smaller bill.

Sound of Clark's Nutcracker

They make many different sounds, but the most common call is a grating khaa-khaa-khaa.  sound

Preferred Habitat

Nutcrackers are found in much of the American west, flying in loose groups outside of nesting season.  They like to be near the tree line of coniferous forest in the mountains, often seen in mountain resorts.  

Breeding and Nesting

Pairs of nutcrackers form long term bonds, and will stay in their territory year long.  In late winter they begin nesting.

The nest which is a deep bowl of twigs, and bark lined with pine needles, grass, and leaves in coniferous trees is built by both birds.

Females lay 2 to 6 green spotted eggs.  The male will help incubate the eggs for around 18 days, and even develops a brood pouch like the female.  Both parents help feed the young which will leave the nest in around 20 days.  The young birds will be fed from seeds the parents stashed away earlier.  The young will stay with the parents for 3 to 4 months.  Storing seeds for the young allows nutcrackers to stay in high elevations year round, and to breed as early as January or February.

Clark's nutcrackers have a symbiotic relationship with pine trees.  The trees provide food for the birds and in return cashes the birds do not eat produce pine trees.


They feed on nuts, insects, berries, eggs, small mammals, and carrion.  They will eat suet, and sunflower seeds.  These birds are very bold around humans, and often come to picnic and camping areas to beg for handouts.

For more on food and feeding click here.
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