Anyone who has hiked, camped or travelled in the higher elevations of North America's western mountains has likely encountered Clark's nutcrackers. These attractive birds, closely related to jays and crows, favor the upper Subalpine and Hudsonian zones, near timberline, where they feast on conifer seeds and insects.
Easily identified by their white, black and light gray plumage, these nutcrackers are often spotted at the top of a spruce or pine, surveying their territory. At other times, like their cousins, the gray jays, they appear at picnic sites, rest stops or ski resort decks to seek handouts from human visitors. In either case, they are handsome symbols of our high country and one of the more sought after species for birders new to the West.
Though Clark's nutcrackers inhabit high elevations throughout the year, they are an irruptive species and, in winters with low seed crops, they may invade the plains, parklands and deserts that surround the mountains. During these irruptions, which generally occur every decade or so, some individuals turn up far from their usual range, including coniferous woodlands of the northern Midwest.