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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote ® – Clark’s Nutcracker - Nature’s Arborist

Air Date: Week of

Clark’s Nutcracker (© Tom Grey)

The Clark’s Nutcracker is a bird that hails from the western United States. And as Michael Stein reports, it has a unique role in sowing the seeds of whitebark pine forests.



GELLERMAN: Some birds have beautiful feathers - some sing sweetly - and some eat pesky insects. Then there’s the bird that’s kind of an avian Johnny Appleseed. Michael Stein has today's BirdNote®


STEIN: High in the mountains near tree line in the western states, a Clark’s Nutcracker folds its wings and dives. The bird plunges nearly a thousand feet, a black, white, and gray thunderbolt.

Clark’s Nutcracker foraging. (Photo: © Lee Rentz)


STEIN: Pulling up and landing, the Clark’s Nutcracker buries a cache of pine seeds with its long, black bill. It’s October, and snow is on the way. Since August, the nutcracker has been harvesting and cacheing the seeds of whitebark pines. In a special pouch under its tongue – a structure unique to nutcrackers – the bird can hold more than 80 pine seeds.

It will stash away tens of thousands of seeds each summer. Most, it will dig up during the snowy months ahead. The seeds are nearly its sole source of food until the next summer.

A Clark’s Nutcracker grabs some pine nuts. (Photo: © Lee Rentz)


STEIN: But some of these cached seeds are forgotten. These may germinate, spawning a small grove of pines. Whitebark pines are one of more than 20 species of pines worldwide that rely almost exclusively on birds like nutcrackers to renew their forests. Clark’s Nutcracker, named for the famous Western explorer William Clark, is one of nature’s indispensable tree planters.


GELLERMAN: That's Michael Stein with BirdNote®. For photos and more information, go to our website - LOE dot ORG.



Clark’s Nutcracker audio provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by R.S. Little and W.W.H. Gunn.

BirdNote® Clark’s Nutcracker – Nature’s Arborist was written by Bob Sundstrom.


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