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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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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

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Songs and Calls

A guttural kraaaa.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Clark's Nutcracker

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate Threats Near You

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.