Sunday, November 20, 2011

Squirrelly Facts: The Clark's Nutcracker

Okay, the Clark's nutcracker is not a squirrel. It is a bird, but it has a notably squirrely habit: it collects and stores thousands and thousands of pine nuts. And what's more, it remembers where almost all of those nuts are, even when they are buried under a blanket of snow.

But I still can't remember where I left the car keys
The Clark's nutcracker is a large bird, related to crows and jays, that lives in mountainous areas of western North America. It is monogamous, living in pairs throughout the year. This bird has a unique physical feature: a pouch under the tongue that can hold up to 150 pine seeds. It collects the seeds from the inside of pine cones until the pouch is full, then takes them to caches which may be on the ground, under fallen leaves, or in cracks in trees. The many caches created by a pair of birds may contain 30,000 nuts and be spread over an area of 15 square miles. The birds have such excellent spatial memory that they will know where to find almost all of these caches, enabling them not only to survive but even hatch and raise young throughout the harsh mountain winter.

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