The Clark's Nutcracker is a hardy, raucous and gregarious bird that is a familiar sight in the Rockies. It is often encountered in public day-use areas, surveying from a perch and swooping boldly to take advantage of the generosity or neglect of the human visitors. When Captain William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, collected the first specimen, the bird's large, straight, black bill misled the famous western explorer into believing it was a woodpecker; it was originally categorized as being of the genus Picicorvus, meaning 'woodpecker-crow.' Despite its name, this bird actually cracks more conifer cones than nuts with its crowbar-like bill.
I.D.: Sexes similar: light gray head, back and underparts; large, black bill; black wings with flashy white inner wing patches. In flight: black central tail feathers; white outer tail feathers.
Size: L 12-13 in. (30-33 cm).
Range: uncommon to common resident throughout the Rockies.
Habitat: open coniferous and mixed forests, scenic overlooks, krummholz forests and townsites from the foothills to the alpine. Winter: moves to lower elevations.
Nesting: on a horizontal limb; twig and stick platform nest is lined with grass and strips of bark; pair incubates 2-4 eggs for 16-22 days, starting in March.
Feeding: forages on the ground and among trees for pinecones and pinyon nuts; hammers the cones and nuts with its bill; also eats insects; stores food for winter.
Voice: loud, harsh, squawking kra-a-a-a-a.
Similar Species: Gray Jay: gray wings and tail. Pinyon Jay: all-blue-gray plumage. Northern Mockingbird: smaller overall; smaller bill; body plumage is not uniformly gray.