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Clark's Nutcrackers in all-Juniper habitat

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Old Thursday 20th September 2018, 02:58   #1
UtahnBirder
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Clark's Nutcrackers in all-Juniper habitat

Today I visited one of my favorite local hotspots, located at the mouth of a canyon. The floor of the canyon has some deciduous trees, but the entire face of the north ridge is nothing but Juniper.

I am under the impression that Clark's Nutcrackers basically eat nothing but pine nuts, maybe with the occasional arthropod. Online guides say they like pinyon-juniper habitat, but I assume that would be because of the pinyon. The area I'm talking about is Juniper only--no pinyon in the immediate vicinity.

Am I correct that this is abnormal, or do Clark's Nutcrackers eat something from junipers?
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Old Friday 21st September 2018, 00:15   #2
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Yep, abnormal - likely there's been a crop failure in the area on Whitebark / Limber / Pinyon Pines, so they're desperate to find food anywhere.
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Old Friday 21st September 2018, 01:55   #3
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Wonder if I'll be seeing them throughout the valley this winter then
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Old Friday 21st September 2018, 09:57   #4
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Possible, but unlikely - more probable that they'll move on elsewhere in search of better food, or else - sadly - die.
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Old Friday 21st September 2018, 15:58   #5
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How widespread do cone crop failures tend to be? What causes them?
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Old Friday 21st September 2018, 23:25   #6
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Variable, but usually regional. Cone crop size is largely weather-related, with (in temperate areas) warm, sunny weather in late spring promoting a good crop 2 years later (pine cones take just over 2 years from inception to maturity*), and poor weather a poor crop. But drought can also cause crop failure, and in hot, dry regions, the best crops are after cooler, wetter springs.

Typically areas with a similar crop will be on the lines of the size of a weather system - move around 200-500 km and you could well find the crop size rather different. But there can be local differences too, including altitudinal differences. A year that's too hot and dry at lower altitudes may be good higher up; or a year too cold high up can be good lower downslope.

Really bad total crop failures can be caused by a bad late spring frost or severe drought killing the young conelets, and also if the trees are 'exhausted' after a bumper crop the previous year.

* Time line:
May-June year 1: cone initiation, development in bud - promoted by 'nice' weather from the pine's viewpoint
May-June year 2: cone pollination ("flowering") - at risk from late frost at this point
September-October year 3: cones mature, seed harvested by Nutcrackers
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Old Wednesday 19th December 2018, 18:31   #7
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This is definitely unusual in my experience with Clark's Nutcrackers. Although not an expert I'm fond of them, and as you mentioned I've only found them near reliable sources of pine nut food. Even the area and elevation you're describing are not consistent with where I typically see them regardless of food source . . . however I suppose you find birds where you're looking for them, and I'm usually looking higher up! So maybe that part of the equation is not uncommon for them.

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