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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Collection: Species Details Lewis and Clark as Naturalists
Bird    Species Name:
Nucifraga columbiana

Common Name:
Clark's Nutcracker


Along Lemhi River, Idaho
Near Tendoy, along the Lemhi river
  August 22, 1805

If chipmunks could fly

Clark's nutcracker joins Lewis' woodpecker in being immortalized by by one of the United States' earliest ornithologist illustrators, Alexander Wilson.  Wilson's illustration is based on a specimen collected by Lewis and Clark, and he was first to publish both the accepted scientific name, and the common name.

In Lewis' description we see mention of the bird's diet including pine nuts.  The nut of choice is the white bark pine nut, wrenched out of cones with the bird's strong beak.  The seeds are cached, or buried for future times when food supplies dwindle, much as a gray squirrel caches nuts in the ground.  Carrying and caching one seed at a time takes too much energy, so the bird carries a bunch of seeds tucked into a pouch in the throat.  The throat pouch is a convenient adaptation for this behavior, not unlike the cheek pouches of another rodent, the chipmunk.  White bark pines benefit by having their seeds distributed and planted.  Not every seed is recovered by nutcrackers, so some germinate and grow, eventually replenishing the tree species, which provide nuts for future generations of nutcrackers.  This is a very delicate ecological relationship that is easily upset by the destruction of white bark pines.

Journal Entries:

Clark and Lewis both mentioned this bird in their journals. Lewis provided an extended description of the bird that was later to be known as Clark’s ...  more>>

Sound    Nutcracker (0:00, 1,702 kb)
Lesson Plans
PDF    Clark's Nutcracker
By Gail McEachron
References Wilson, Alexander, American Ornithology; or, the Natural History of the Birds of the United States: Illustrated with Plates Engraved and Colored from Original Drawings taken from Nature, 3 vols, Bradford and Inskeep, Philadephia, 1811

see following caption

See following caption
Clark's nutcracker

See following caption
Clark's nutcracker illustrated by Alexander Wilson from a specimen collected by Lewis and Clark

See following caption
Clark's nutcracker

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