Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana)

Copyright © 2012 Corvid Corner. All rights reserved.

 

A member of the corvidae family, Clark’s Nutcracker is a lovely bird slightly smaller than the Spotted Nutcracker. It eats mostly seeds from the pine tree. And it has a pouch in the floor of it’s mouth in front of its tongue (a sublingual pouch — See below) which can hold up to 95 pinyon pine seeds (depending on the seed this number can vary from 50 to 150).

Sublingual pouch

 

To put this in perspective, 95 Pinyon pine seeds weigh up to 13% of the total weight of the bird!! How neat is that? They have a pouch in their mouth where they can store and carry almost 15% of their own weight! The Clark’s Nutcracker also has a “long, heavy, sharp bill… used for hacking open green, closed cones, many of which are covered with pitch. Nutcrackers can open the green cones of most of the pines. The bill is also used to thrust seeds into the substrate with strong japes of the head and neck. As their name implies, nutcrackers can open thick-hulled pine seeds by crushing them in their bills.” ((http://www.pigeon.psy.tufts.edu/asc/Balda/)) Most jays must wait for the cones to open naturally, but the Clark’s nutcracker (and the pinyon jay) are able to open the tightly closed green cones. Lucky for them, they don’t have to wait for a good seed.

In a year with a heavy cone crop a single nutcracker can cache between 22,000 and 33,000 seeds in over 7,000 individual cache sites (Vander Wall & Balda, 1977). Birds may place between one and 14 seeds per cache. Birds continue caching until the crop is depleted or snow covers the caching areas (Vander Wall & Balda, 1977). Possibly, birds curtail caching after snow remains on the ground because to cache in these conditions would reveal cache location by their foot prints left in the snow. ((Balda, Russell P. and Kamil, Alan C. Linking Life Zones, Life History Traits, Ecology, and Spatial Cognition in Four Allopatric Southwestern Seed Caching Corvids))

Copyright © 2012 Corvid Corner. All rights reserved.

 

The Clark’s Nutcracker possesses a number of abilities and physical attributes that help them thrive. They have excellent spatial memory abilities which allow these clever corvids to “learn and generalize geometric rules about the placement of landmarks.” They use the landscape and even the sun (as a compass) to help them cache seeds. Their strong beaks help them crack open seeds, hence their name. Their long, pointed wings help them for strong flight to great distances. They can cache up to 22 km (a little over 13 and a half miles!). The Clark’s Nutcracker “can carry seeds 1,900 m up the side of the Peaks.” ((Balda and Kamil)) They use ‘bill-clicking’ which is the rapid opening and closing of the mandibles, to help determine if the seed is full as well as determine the thickness of the seed coat which saves time when seeds are abundant in the spring and summer.

Copyright © 2012 Corvid Corner. All rights reserved.

 

So intelligent are they, the Clark’s Nutcracker can discern between pinyon pine seeds that have nut meet and those that are empty just by observing the color of the shell. WOW! Corvids are so intelligent!

 

Sources:

Javan Green Magpie (Short-tailed Magpie)

Let me introduce you to the Javan Green Magpie, also known as the the Short-tailed Magpie or Cissa Thalassina.

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Striking bird, eh? The Javan Green Magpie is part of the Corvidae family. This beautiful bird is endemic to the mountain forests on the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Java. Yep, those are the only two places you can find the Javan Green Magpie. It lives in thick vegetation in the upper and middle levels of forests and makes only short flights.

Photo taken by Dr. Mithilesh Mishra in Kinabalu nature park. © All rights are reserved by him. Please ask his permission if you want to reuse it for any reason.

The Bornean subspecies jeffreyi has whitish eyes. The nominate subspecies from Java, as well as other members of the genus (Cissa), have dark reddish-brown eyes. The Javan Green Magpie is considered critically endangered with a population of about 50 to 249 mature individuals. ((http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=112641)) ” It has also been suggested that the total population probably does not exceed 100 individuals and could number fewer than 50 individuals, as there may be only one or two dozen birds at each of up to four sites where the species was recorded from 2001 to 2011 and may still be extant (van Balen et al. 2011).” ((http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=112641&m=1)) These birds are endangered because of habitat loss and habitat degradation driven primarily by agricultural expansion, logging and mining. Unfortunately, they are also often trapped in cages set out for the cage-bird trade business. =( Only a small number have ever been recorded in bird markets which indicates they are caught but then killed because they are not necessary. ((van Balen et al. 2011))

As you can see from the photograph above, the Javan Green Magpie mostly eats invertebrates and small vertebrate prey as well as berries (I saw a photograph of one with a berry in its mouth).  Breeding appears to take place throughout the year, with a preference for the months with highest rainfall (October -April). Clutch size is one or two (van Balen et al. 2011 and references therein).

It is slightly larger than a blue jay.

I couldn’t find much more about this beautiful bird but if you can, please share!

 

The Crow from Six Feet Under

Copyright HBO (Six Feet Under)


I have been watching Six Feet Under and the opening sequence includes a corvid. I thought it was a raven because it is much bigger than a normal crow and its feathers around the neck are shaggier, it also has a larger bill. So, I did some research and here is what I found out. It was a trick. It is indeed a crow but not an ordinary crow which is approximately 40–50 cm (16–20 inches) in length. It is being portrayed as an American Crow but it is reportedly a painted Pied Crow (Corvus Albus) which is often thought of as a small raven and is approximately 46–50 cm (18.1 – 23.6 inches) in length.

In the Season 1 commentary, the Director mentions that they used a Pied Crow which is native to Africa for the opening sequence and they painted it black to look like an American Crow instead of using an actual American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) because it is illegal to film a crow in the United States under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,

All native species of birds, with exception of upland game species (chukar, pheasant, quail, grouse), introduced species (starlings, house or “english sparrows”, and feral pigeons) are protected by the MBTA. Migratory birds, their parts, nests or eggs may not be possessed, transported, imported, exported, purchased, sold, bartered, or offered for purchase, sale or barter without appropriate permits.

According to the USFWS Law Enforcement Division,

Use of birds for filming is not allowed in the United States, unless the film is produced for the purpose of wildlife conservation education (National Geographic or Discovery Channel films, for example). Commercial use of migratory birds is prohibited. This would include using birds in films produced for entertainment or commercials.

I guess we learn something new every day. The bird is beautiful but not right in it’s natural state for the opening sequence, not dark enough, or so I imagine. And our ordinary American Crows are not film-able in the United States. Thus, we get a painted Pied Crow in the beginning of every episode of HBO’s Six Feet Under. The ironic part of all this is… we are allowed to legally kill crows, just not film them for commercial purposes. Exploit them — NO WAY! Kill them, sure. What strange laws we have.

Copyright HBO (Six Feet Under)

According to HBO’s Six Feet Under Behind the Scenes,

Lane Jensen of Digital Kitchen wrote, “The thing we discovered about crows is that it is illegal to film true crows in the United States for commercial purposes. This crow was actually a pied crow. it has a white chest, so we painted the chest black. It was not very well trained, and it had to be on a leash, it didn’t want to fly. “

Alan Poul from Six Feet Under wrote, “The thing that sticks out the most is the crow. Every effects house had come in with some kind of death-related imagery. But the crow seemed like something that was not so literally tied to the show and not overly macabre, but so evocative of the darker feelings the show would conjure up.”

Raven queen


Raven queen

Originally uploaded by ultradialectics amsterdam

Crows and ravens often inspire art. This is one I found while perusing flickr. Gorgeous, isn’t it? Can I challenge my readers to write me a story from this picture? Write me a story of the Raven Queen. I will post it with a link to wherever you wish! If you are interested then please email me the story or your questions below. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)

The Red-billed Chough is a popular bird in the corvidae family.

Pyrrhocorax_pyrrhocorax_-standing-8

The Red-billed Chough or Chough (pronounced chuff), Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, is a bird in the crow family; it is one of only two species in the genus Pyrrhocorax. Its eight subspecies breed on mountains and coastal cliffs from Ireland and Great Britain east through southern Europe and North Africa to Central Asia, India and China.

This bird has glossy black plumage, a long curved red bill, red legs, and a loud, ringing call. It has a buoyant acrobatic flight with widely spread primaries. The Red-billed Chough pairs for life and displays fidelity to its breeding site, which is usually a cave or crevice in a cliff face. It builds a wool-lined stick nest and lays three eggs. It feeds, often in flocks, on short grazed grassland, taking mainly invertebrate prey.

Although it is subject to predation and parasitism, the main threat to this species is changes in agricultural practices, which have led to population decline and range fragmentation in Europe; however, it is not threatened globally. The Red-billed Chough, which derived its common name from the Jackdaw, was formerly associated with fire-raising, and has links with Saint Thomas Becket and the county of Cornwall. The Red-billed Chough has been depicted on postage stamps of a few countries, including the Isle of Man, with four different stamps, and The Gambia where the bird does not occur.

Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga Caryocatactes)

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.

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.