Clark’s nutcracker

Banff National Park

Quick facts

(Nucifraga columbiana)
Found In high elevations in Western North America, including the Rocky Mountains of Canada.
Eats (Omnivorous) seeds, berries, eggs, dead animals
Winters Stays in the Rocky Mountains, year round
Related to Crows, magpies, ravens, jays

Clark’s nutcrackers are bold, extroverted birds found in the Rocky Mountains. Related to crows, these cheeky corvids play an important role in species at risk conservation.

An important partnership

Whitebark pine and Clark’s nutcrackers depend on each other for survival. Whitebark pine cones are unable to open on their own and spread their seeds. Clark’s nutcrackers are perfectly suited for this task.

Using their long pointed beaks, Clark’s nutcrackers break the cones open, removing the pea-sized seeds within. In the fall, Clark’s nutcrackers hide the high protein seeds beneath the soil to eat later. This ensures they have a reliable, nutritious food source throughout the winter.

Clark’s nutcrackers are expert whitebark pine gardeners. A single bird can hide thousands of seeds each fall. Approximately half of the hidden seeds are forgotten and may grow into whitebark pine trees if the conditions are right.

Creating openings for nutcrackers 

High in the mountains of Banff National Park, Parks Canada staff are setting out on an important mission to remove competing tree species.

By removing trees that compete with whitebark pine new open spaces are created. This encourages the Clark’s nutcrackers natural seed hiding behaviour. They use these open spaces, close to whitebark pine trees, to hide seeds.

Openings in the forest are rare, partly due to historical fire suppression. Creating new openings where the crafty little gardeners can hide seeds helps create new whitebark pine habitat.


Animated title sequence: Parks Canada logo

Narrator: Here is the cone of the whitebark pine It cannot release its seeds to germinate Enter a surprising ally The Clark's nutcracker The birds hide the seeds in open areas Buried just below the surface the seeds become a reliable source of food year round Oh no! it seems our feathered subjects cannot find a suitable opening. Whatever will they do? Fire used to be one of the main ways openings in the forest were created Over the last 150 years fire and the forest openings have been disappearing from our landscape

[Trumpet sound plays to show nutcrackers displeasure; music plays in background]

What do we have here? It appears the nutcrackers are mimicking Parks Canada and making their own openings in the forest What is it that makes a good nutcracker opening? Well, an open area

[Chainsaw noise plays in background]

About twice the size of a basketball court, high in the mountains, and near a stand of healthy whitebark pines

[Flames can be heard in the background]

Well in the absence of fire openings need to be created in order to attract the nutcrackers

[Bird noises in background]

Now natural nutcracker caching behaviour should begin once again Roughly half of the seeds that are buried in the spring are forgotten and over time may grow into whitebark pine saplings

[Winter wind sounds play as scene transitions]

[Spring music plays and footsteps are heard as a man hikes through forest]

[Man peaks through trees and sees a whitebark pine sapling]

Whitebark pine conservation is slow work. It can take 80 to 100 years before the saplings fully mature and produce seeds of their own

[Man, now much older, sits beneath mature whitebark pine tree. A Clark's nutcracker lands on the tree, happy]

Text onscreen: to learn more about whitebark pine conservation, visit:


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© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by Parks Canada, 2020.

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