Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version



Mollhoff, "A Probable Nesting of Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) in Nebraska, from Nebraska Bird Review (December 1997) 65(4): 147-150.


Copyright 1997, Nebraska Ornithologists' Union. Used by permission.


This report provides details on the probable nesting of Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) in Morrill, Scotts Bluff Co., Nebraska, in 1997. It also corrects an erroneous report of nesting in the Pine Ridge area of Nebraska (Silcock & Jorgensen 1997b).

A single Clark's Nutcracker was first noted corning to a suet feeder at the home of Ms. Edna C. Thomas in Morrill 8-9 Jan 1997. It came to the feeder at least weekly and was often seen daily. A second Clark's Nutcracker appeared during the second week of Feb. Initially, the bird already present was antagonistic towards it and tried to drive it away. Over a period of several days the agonistic behavior decreased and by the end of the week the two were corning to the feeder together. Thereafter, they came to feed together regularly, usually daily, through the rest of Feb. and all of March. By early April only one bird came to the feeder, still usually daily. On 27 April this nutcracker was noted carrying off a large chunk of suet toward a row of large cottonwoods several hundred meters away, arousing suspicion that it was carrying food to young. The trees were searched unsuccessfully for a nest.

On 7 May the adult bird came to the feeder accompanied by what appeared to be a juvenile bird, which hung back from the feeder, sitting in the shadows of a branch and begging for food (begging call, lowered body, fluttering wings, open mouth), but the adult did not feed it, nor did the begging bird feed itself. On 8 May the two birds returned to the feeder. This time the juvenile was in direct sunlight and Ms. Thomas noted the following plumage characteristics: a tannish-gray cast to the facial feathers around the beak and eyes; gray body feathers were dull colored with a slight tannish cast, rather than a clean gray like the adult's; the dark flight feathers in the wings had a definite brownish tinge rather than pure black like the adult's. Overall, she reported that the plumage was "softer appearing" than the adult's. Most of the color differences were subtle, noticeable only in direct sunlight at close range (she was able to approach to within 3 meters without alarming the young bird). On this occasion, after the adult fed itself and flew away, the young bird remained and eventually began to feed itself.

The adult continued to bring the young bird to the feeder for about a week. During this time, the adult would eat and then fly away, leaving the young one to feed itself. The adult was never seen feeding the young bird and was last seen at the feeder on 18 May. The young bird continued to come to the feeder almost daily and was last seen there on 3 June. Initially, it was remarkably tame and tolerated the presence of humans, cats, and noises. By 30 May, however, it had become more wary, scolding, at cats an squirrels, and human activity would frighten it away.

Ms. Thomas had fairly extensive previous experience with Clark's Nutcrackers in Colorado over a 25-year period and was aided in her observations by information from friends still there. Her own previous experience, coupled with guidance from knowledgeable contacts and information from Bent's Life Histories, combined to allow her to search for and recognize the correct behavioral and plumage clues to adequately establish the age of the bird as a juvenile.