Thursday, June 13, 2013

Lewis and Clark 3: Clark’s Nutcracker

When William Clark first saw a Clark’s Nutcracker (so named by Alexander Wilson when scientifically describing the species), Clark thought it was a woodpecker. Now it is classified with the crows and jays. This nutcracker is found in the Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada. This photo, taken several years ago, is from Mount Rainier National Park.

The species is a highly specialized pine seed forager. Several pine species depend on nutcrackers to distribute their seeds, thus forsaking wind dispersal. Nutcrackers have a pouch under their tongues that they use to transport seeds to cache sites. The birds have excellent spatial memory, which allows them, even after a year, to relocate their seed caches, which can number in the thousands. If, for whatever reason, a nutcracker fails to relocate its cache, the seeds may germinate. Consequently these pines often grow in small clusters (Tomback 1998).

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