Photo: Andy Jones/Flickr Creative Commons

Clark's Nutcracker

Nucifraga columbiana

This bird often lives in places remote from human contact, near treeline on windy western peaks. Where it does encounter people, however, it seems fearless, striding about in picnic grounds and scenic-view parking lots, looking for handouts. Nutcrackers are champions at burying pine seeds (sometimes tens of thousands) in hidden caches in fall, then re-finding them during winter; these seed stores allow them to nest in late winter, when the forest is still covered with snow.
Conservation status Overall population trend not well known. As with other species living in mountaintop habitats, may be vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Family Crows, Magpies, Jays
Habitat High mountains, conifers near treeline. Generally breeds at high elevations in the mountains, in open or broken forest of pine, spruce, or Douglas-fir. May also breed in lower-elevation pine or pinyon-juniper woods when there is a good cone crop. Wanders to above treeline in summer, and may move to lower elevation woods in fall.
This bird often lives in places remote from human contact, near treeline on windy western peaks. Where it does encounter people, however, it seems fearless, striding about in picnic grounds and scenic-view parking lots, looking for handouts. Nutcrackers are champions at burying pine seeds (sometimes tens of thousands) in hidden caches in fall, then re-finding them during winter; these seed stores allow them to nest in late winter, when the forest is still covered with snow.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • immature (1st yr)
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages on ground and in trees. Occasionally catches flying insects in the air, or digs insect larvae out of wood by pounding with bill. Will pry open pine cones to extract seeds. Harvests pine seeds in late summer and fall, carrying up to 90 at once in throat pouch to bury them in soil on exposed slopes; may store 30,000 or more seeds in one season. Has a remarkable ability to find these caches later, feeding on them through winter.


Eggs

2-4, sometimes up to 6. Pale green, lightly spotted with brown and gray. Incubation is by both parents, about 16-18 days. Incubating adult sits tightly on nest even when closely approached. Young: Both parents care for and feed young. Food for nestlings often consists of pine seeds stored the preceding autumn. Young leave the nest about 18-21 days after hatching.


Young

Both parents care for and feed young. Food for nestlings often consists of pine seeds stored the preceding autumn. Young leave the nest about 18-21 days after hatching.

Diet

Omnivorous. Much of diet is pine seeds; remainder of diet quite varied, including other seeds, nuts, berries, insects, snails, eggs and young of other birds, carrion.


Nesting

Breeding activity often begins in late winter, when territory is still snow-covered. Courtship may involve long flights, male following female. Nest site is in coniferous tree, usually away from trunk on horizontal limb, 8-40' above the ground. Nest (built by both sexes) is large and deep; has a platform of twigs and bark fibers supporting a cup of grass, bark strips, pine needles.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Movements are complex and variable. Often a permanent resident, but may move to lower elevations in mountains in fall, even out into lowlands, perhaps in years when food crops are poor in the mountains.

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Migration

Movements are complex and variable. Often a permanent resident, but may move to lower elevations in mountains in fall, even out into lowlands, perhaps in years when food crops are poor in the mountains.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A guttural kraaaa.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Crows, Magpies, Jays Perching Birds

Clark's Nutcracker

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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