Bird GuideCrows, Magpies, JaysClark's Nutcracker

At a Glance

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.
Crows, Magpies, Jays, Perching Birds
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains
California, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Undulating

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


12-13" (30-33 cm). Large, mostly pale gray, with spike-pointed bill. Big white patches in black wings and tail very noticeable in flight. Gray Jay lacks white in wings and tail, has much smaller bill.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Gray, White
Wing Shape
Fingered, Long, Rounded
Tail Shape
Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

A guttural kraaaa.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat, Rising
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Rattle, Raucous, Scream


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.



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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Clark's Nutcracker. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Clark's Nutcracker

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.