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Order Song birds/Passeriformes, Family Crows/Corvidae

Spotted Nutcracker/Nucifraga caryocatactes - Adult

L 32-35 cm, WS 49-53 cm. Breeds almost exclusively in areas with easy access to spruce forests for nesting and rich supply of either hazel or arolla pine for winter food stores. Nuts and seeds are cached in the ground layer during late summer-autumn, and nut depots are memorized in detail and can be re-found in winter with great accuracy, even beneath thick snow cover. European breeders (ssp. caryocatactes), which are vigilant and shy, are mainly residents. In some years, when the arolla pine’s seed crop is poor in the far NE, large flocks of the slender-billed race (macrorhynchos), however, migrate in the late summer and early autumn from NE Russia and Siberia all the way to C Europe, where they are relatively tame in behaviour; no concentrated return passage of Siberian birds noted. Omnivorous in summer. Nests in thick spruce (occasionally pine), usually against trunk. Early breeder.
IDENTIFICATION: Size of a Jay but with quite different proportions: tail is short (best feature in flight) and bill long and powerful. Head is more elongate than Jay’s and lacks hint of crest. Plumage is dark brown and sprinkled with small white spots; crown and greater part of wings are, by contrast, unspotted brownish-black. Wings broad and rounded. Flight direct, often high up, with fluttering, slightly hesitant wingbeats recalling Jay. From below, shows contrastingly white vent and white tail-tip. Sexes alike and ages similar. - Variation: In Europe, bill is heavier (thicker base) and tail has narrower white tip. In Siberian race macrorhynchos, bill is more uniformly narrow and averages a trifle longer, and tail has broader white tip.
VOICE: A rather silent bird on the whole. Does, however, have a characteristic call heard recurrently, at least seasonally (early spring, summer), a drawn-out, hard rolling sound with an almost machine-like quality, ‘krrrrreh’, which is often repeated a few times in rapid succession; it is longer, feebler and at higher frequency than Hooded Crow’s usual call, and the pitch is more even and mechanical. Soft Jackdaw-like calls, ‘yaik’ and ‘kya’, sometimes given. Song seldom heard, a quiet ‘subsong’ of squeaky, harsh and twittering sounds, of same type as Magpie’s.

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