Nucifraga caryocatactes

Physical characteristics: Spotted nutcrackers are named for their appearance and the way they use their large bills to take the shells off of nuts. There are white spots and streaks in their feathers. The spotted nutcracker's brown body plumage is the color of chocolate. The lower part of the body is white. The wing and tail feathers are a shiny black. There are white tips at the ends of the wings and feathers. The spotted nutcracker's bill, legs, and feet are black.

The length of nutcrackers ranges from 12.48 to 13.26 inches (32 to 34 centimeters). Birds weigh from 4.3 to 7 ounces (124 to 200 grams).

Geographic range: Spotted nutcrackers live in Europe and are found in nations including Switzerland, England, Netherlands, and Scandinavian countries. The birds also range in Japan, China, and other Asian countries.

Habitat: Spotted nutcrackers live in coniferous forests, where trees such as pines do not shed their leaves.

Diet: Spotted nutcrackers eat conifer seeds, or nuts, of trees in the pine and spruce families. Larger birds eat the hard-shelled hazel nuts. Spotted nutcrackers get the edible meat inside the shell by hitting the shell with their bill.

Spotted nutcrackers have thick bills that they use to open nuts. They place the nut between their feet and then begin pecking on the shell. Nutcrackers use their beaks to hit the nut until the shell cracks.

Spotted nutcrackers have thick bills that they use to open nuts, their main food. (Illustration by Gillian Harris. Reproduced by permission.)

Like other corvids, nutcrackers store food. They bury nuts and seeds to eat at a later time. If no seeds or nuts can be found, nutcrackers eat insects and berries.

Behavior and reproduction: Spotted nutcrackers are solitary breeders. The female lays two to four eggs during March through May. The female incubates the eggs that hatch in eighteen days. Both parents feed the chicks. The young birds fledge after about three weeks. The nestlings remain with their parents throughout the summer or longer.

Spotted nutcrackers and people: Seeds hidden by spotted nutcrackers sometimes sprout into saplings that grow into trees. The spotted nutcracker's habit of hiding food caused the growth of new Swiss pine trees in areas of the European Alps where people had cut down all the trees.

Conservation status: Spotted nutcrackers are not in danger of extinction. ■

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