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Clark's Nutcracker - BirdForum Opus

Photo by Digitalbirder
Cascade Mountains, Manning Park, British Columbia, June 2004
Nucifraga columbiana


Length: 27-30cm (11 ins); weight: 106-161 g.
Long, pointed bill. Pale gray body plumage. White around base of bill and undertail coverts, black wings with white patch on secondaries, and tail white below, black above with white outer feathers.

Similar Species

Most like Canada Jay but note the black wings and the longer bill. Slightly smaller than its closest relative, the Eurasian Nutcracker of Eurasia, but markedly different in plumage pattern.

Photo by digitalbirder
Mountains of Southern British Columbia, June 2004


Occurs in the Rocky Mountains, Cascades, Sierra Nevada, and south California mountains from southwestern Canada to southwestern USA, with an isolated population on Cerro Potosí in north-eastern Mexico.
Locally common at subalpine elevations in pine forests.


Normally resident or locally dispersive over extensive home ranges. They sometimes move outward from their core range in large numbers (eruptive migration) during the fall if pine seed crops fail, with exceptional records as far east as Pennsylvania.[2]


This is a monotypic species[1].


Normally confined to high elevation conifer forests, from 900 m in the north of the range, up to 3700 m in the south of the range. During eruptions, can be seen in valleys, open rocky areas and desert scrub, and as low as sea level on the Pacific coast.[2]



Omnivorous. Feeds primarily on pine seeds when available, more rarely also other seeds and nuts, fruits, berries, insects, birds, eggs, amphibians, reptiles, and carrion and garbage. The most important seeds are of Whitebark Pine Pinus albicaulis and Limber Pine Pinus flexilis; the Cerro Potosí population using the local endemic Potosí Pinyon Pinus culminicola. Several other pines, including Pinus aristata, Pinus edulis and Pinus monophylla, are also used to a smaller extent. Stores seeds in autumn in holes, and has an exceptional spatial memory, able to remember the exact locations of thousands of food caches for up to 8-10 months with remarkable accuracy, and even able to locate them successfully under deep winter snow cover.[3]
Often visits alpine picnic sites to feed on scraps, where it can be very tame; will also come to feeders for sunflower seeds and nuts during pine crop failures.


Breeding season from March to May, usually while snow cover still extensive at high altitudes. The nest is a coarse stick platform, placed in a clump of conifer trees, often near stored seeds. Lays usually 2 - 3 eggs.


Wide variation of vocalizations, most commonly a harsh shraaaaaaaaaa with a rising inflection, one of the most iconic sounds of western American treeline forests. Also a call similar to that of a Peacock.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, B.L. Sullivan, C. L. Wood, and D. Roberson. 2013. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.8., with updates to August 2013. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliott, and D Christie, eds. 2009. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8496553507
  3. Lanner, R. M. (1996). Made for each other - a symbiosis of birds and pines. OUP.
  4. BF Member observations

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