Monday, October 15, 2012

Clark's Nutcrackers

For the last several mornings, I've watched huge flocks or suites of Clark's nutcrackers as the birds fly and descend into the large ponderosa pines that line my dog walking route. Though I've seen birds in the area over the years, never in such numbers. Some flocks have had over 250 birds. Their graceful flight inspires another name to these flocks, "a ballet of nutcrackers."


One assumption is that the nutcrackers are feeding on ponderosa seeds of which there also seems to be an abundance. The split pea-sized seed has a winged tail that turns like a helicopter blade as the seed drops from the tree. Carried aloft on even a slight breeze, the spinning motion gets the seed away from the parent tree and, hopefully, into an area where it may germinate.


With their large stout bills, the nutcrackers can extract these seeds from the pine cones and store them in a special pouch under their tongues or eat the seeds. Stored seeds are buried in a cache that the nutcrackers may dig up later in winter.

Pine seeds along with other nuts, insects, bird eggs, young birds, small mammals and even carrion may fill out the nutcracker's diet. Medium sized, these members of the Corvid family are as much fun to watch as their "bluer" relatives - the Western Scrub and Steller's jays.

Named after William Clark who observed these birds in 1805, the Clark's is a raucous and inquisitive species. Dressed in gray with dark wings and tailing edge white wing patches, these birds are a delight to watch while walking my dog.

 

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