What a treat to see several Clark’s Nutcrackers (a new “lifer” for me) while we visited Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado a couple weeks ago.
The Clark’s Nutcracker was first discovered in 1805 by William Clark during one of their Lewis & Clark expeditions through the Lemhi Pass in the Bitteroot Mountains.
Living year-round high in the mountains of the West, Clark’s Nutcrackers are the size of a Jay but the shape of a Crow, with short tails and rounded, crestless heads.
Clark’s Nutcrackers use their dagger-like bills to rip into pine cones and pull out the seeds, which they stash in a pouch under their tongue.
This pouch can hold as many as 28 single leaf pinyon nuts, 90 seeds of Colorado pinyon, or 82 whitebark pine seeds.
Clark’s Nutcrackers have the amazing ability to gather and cache tens of thousands of seeds each summer, and to remember where they put most of them, even miles away from the tree source and covered by deep snow.
Seeds they don’t retrieve play a crucial role in growing new pine forests. The Clark’s Nutcracker is the primary seed dispenser of the whitebark pine.
I noticed the Clark’s Nutcrackers in both the above and below photos had bands on their legs. I asked a Park Ranger at the visitor center about the bands and if she knew who was tracking the birds. She said she had also recently noticed a Clark’s Nutcracker with a band herself and had put an inquiry in to find out as she was curious, but hadn’t gotten an answer yet.
It was a partly cloudy day when we visited, so when the sun popped out briefly, I was excited to sight and capture the above last photo of the Clark’s Nutcracker in the sunlight. 🙂