Clark’s Nutcracker

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.  🙂


35 thoughts on “Clark’s Nutcracker

  1. Excellent portrait captures Donna! We loved RMNP when we visited it last September. If you haven’t already done so, ask the Park Ranger if the Elk rut has begun and where the bulls and their harem herds typically congregate at dusk. I photographed them in the West Horseshoe Park area of RMNP. It was neat to listen to the bull’s eerie bugling. It’s a great photo op if you have the time.

    • Alas, we have already left the area, but I would definitely love to return to RMNP or Yellowstone NP to see the Elk rut. I read about it at both parks, and it has to be a thrill to watch and photograph them. I remember your photos, you captured them beautifully!

  2. How exciting to see a new bird! I’ve only seen one Clark’s Nutcracker myself. I was so excited to ID it I was in NV.

    I wonder who is tracking it. I have a friend in CO who is part of a group of birding scientist that band birds to keep track of their numbers. I wonder if it’s something like that since the ranger wasn’t aware? I’ll ask him if they banded Clark’s Nutcrackers at all.
    I can’t imagine it was easy catching one to tag!

    • I was a happy birder when I saw them. Even while in my shorts & top in 45 degrees weather in August. My fingers & ears got cold! lol 🙂 I did find a reference to someone in Oregon banding them but it was older info and I didn’t know if they still did, so I didn’t mention it. I tried to catch just a flight shot and the best one I got wasn’t good enough to share, so actually catching one to tag does have to be tough! LOL

  3. Now this is an interesting bird! Thanks for sharing the history, facts and photos. “Life” here got in the way of enjoying you great adventure for a while, but I have all your posts and will catch up. hugs

  4. Thanks so much for this wonderful tribute to the Clark’s Nutcracker. Your photos are so lovely, Donna. It is always fun to get back to the mountains to see this lively bird. I didn’t know about the capacious pouch — interesting!

  5. Congratulations for the “lifer” Donna! Your photos are excellent and your subject is simply beautiful! 🙂

  6. Stunning photos of a truly beautiful and remarkable bird Donna. Here in Australia we see more of the rarer and endangered birds being banded for research and observation as we attempt to save what is left of the species. Some of our birds, which I have posted last year, are so critically endangered that banded birds are most likely the only ones you will see in the wild, and these have been bred in captivity (by our zoo) and released into the wild in an attempt to replenish the population. .In most cases studies are being carried out to find out how to preserve the bird. Thanks for sharing this special bird:-)

    • Thanks so much, Ashley, your information is most appreciated! Always interesting to hear what different areas do with our feathered friends and their survival, no matter within our United States, or around the world all the way to Australia. Most appreciated! 🙂

    • Thanks so much, John! I know this sounds crazy, but my fingers were getting numb taking photos of them, the temps were 45-48 degrees in August! But it was so worth it!! 🙂

  7. Clark’s Nutcracker, what a name for a bird. 🙂 Never seen one before, and I really enjoy learning about them through your interesting post and photos.

    • Thanks so much, Hien! It was a newbie for me, and I was so excited looking it up after sighting it. In flight over the dark tree tops, they were quite flashy, but I failed to get a focused flight shot. 😦

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