Nutcracker & Pine: A healthy relationship

By Dave Hanks

CLARK’S NUTCRACKER has a symbiotic relationship with White Bark Pine, or in our mountains - Limber Pine. These two, high-mountain tree species can be identified by their needle bunches, which come in groups of five. There are many Limber Pine trees at Lake Cleveland. A symbiotic relationship is one in which both species benefit from each other. The nutcracker is adept at opening the cones of these two trees. The nuts from these cones are the main staple of the bird’s diet. The bird not only benefits from the food source, but the trees benefit by having their seeds spread. The tree populations are re-generated from seeds hidden in the ground and forgotten. Wherever you find these trees, you will also usually find this bird.

This is a big (12” to 13”) gray bird. It is trimmed with black wings, a white bottom, and white in the trailing wing edges. It’s voice is a loud, nasal “kra-ah-ah”. As a member of the Jay family, it (like all Jays) is raucous and opportunistic. They will readily come to a campsite that provides food. Seeds, suet, peanuts, bread are attractants that are readily accepted.

Nutcrackers lay three eggs and incubate them for 18 days. The young will fledge in three to four weeks. The bird is blessed with a pouch under the base of the tongue - just behind the lower beak. It can gather up a large quantity of seeds to either feed the babies or to store for a later date.

It is “neat” to arrive in the high mountains and to hear this bird, as it flies its circuit, making the morning air ring with it’s resounding calls.