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Clark's Nutcracker

Nucifraga columbiana ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CORVIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Clarks Nutcracker Photo

High in the mountains of the West, gray-and-black Clark’s Nutcrackers swoop among wizened pine trees, flashing white in the tail and wing. They use their dagger-like bills to rip into pine cones and pull out large seeds, which they stash in a pouch under their tongue and then carry away to bury for the winter. Each birds buries tens of thousands of seeds each summer and remembers the locations of most of them. Seeds they don’t retrieve play a crucial role in growing new pine forests.

Calls

  • calls
     
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Like other members of the crow family, the Clark’s Nutcracker doesn’t have any true songs, but it has a large repertoire of calls. It makes grating, metallic kraaks to maintain contact with other nutcrackers, it squalls when disturbed, and it makes a froglike croak that may be part of pair-bonding. On the more musical end of the spectrum, family members communicate with low, melodious calls that rise in pitch.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Though they mostly eat fresh and stored pine seeds, Clark’s Nutcrackers do sometimes visit feeders at homes in the mountains. They tend to eat larger seeds, such as peanuts, and have been reported eating suet as well. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Find This Bird

Clark’s Nutcrackers are conspicuous birds in open subalpine forests near treeline in the West, where they fly with woodpecker-like swoops, perch on vertical pine branches, and jab at cones with their bills. They’re also wide-ranging and move through middle-elevation conifer forests, where they tend to stay near the canopy. A great way to find them is to listen for their long, grating calls, given frequently. If you see one pass by overhead, keep your eyes out because they typically travel in small groups. You may also see Clark’s Nutcrackers in campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads, and high-elevation scenic pullouts in national parks and forests.

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