Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes)

Spotted Nutcracker

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Corvidae | [latin] Nucifraga caryocatactes | [UK] Spotted Nutcracker | [FR] Casse-noix mouchete | [DE] Tannenhaher | [ES] Cascanueces Moteado | [NL] Notenkraker


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Nucifraga caryocatactes EU widespread
Nucifraga caryocatactes caryocatactes
Nucifraga caryocatactes hemispila
Nucifraga caryocatactes interdicta
Nucifraga caryocatactes japonica
Nucifraga caryocatactes macella
Nucifraga caryocatactes macrorhynchos
Nucifraga caryocatactes owstoni
Nucifraga caryocatactes rothschildi

Physical charateristics

Rather small, long-billed, compact, and short-tailed corvid, with (uniquely in Corvidae) pale-spotted face and body and bold white vent and tail-rim all obvious against otherwise dark chocolate-brown plumage.
Unmistakable, with white-black-white bands under tail conspicuous from below or behind even at distances where pale spotting on body becomes invisible. Sharp-billed, short-tailed silhouette quickly apparent as distinct from that of Jay. Flight recalls Jay but rather more steady, with flapping, not so jerky wing-beats used during both level and undulating progress. Gait essentially a hop varied by sidling jumps and occasional bounces. Sociable, even gregarious during eruptions during which birds often become tame.

Listen to the sound of Spotted Nutcracker

[audio: Nutcracker.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 49 cm wingspan max.: 53 cm
size min.: 32 cm size max.: 35 cm
incubation min.: 18 days incubation max.: 19 days
fledging min.: 24 days fledging max.: 19 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 5  


Eurasia : widespread


Breeds in boreal or montane upper and middle latitudes of west Palearctic in cool continental forest low-lands and on mountains up to treeline, wherever essential requirements of coniferous forest and food are fulfilled. At home on ground as well as in trees. Within west Palearctic, resorts mainly to stands of Norway spruce in northern taiga zone or preferably Arolla pine in mountains, but sometimes larch or silver fir. Where Arolla pine absent, alternative reliance on storage for winter of hazel nuts renders access to these of vital importance, even if this involves repeated flights of several km; in Sweden at least, this factor is apparently indispensable.


Early, so in many areas throughout range whole breeding cycle (nest-building to fledging) can be in cold conditions with deep snow on ground. Sweden: egg-laying peaks last third of March to first third of April. Finland: laying peaks early to mid-April. Balkans: laying peaks end of March to beginning of April. One brood.

Almost always in conifer, generally against trunk. Nest: compact, well-made structure containing 3-5 distinct layers providing good insulation; outer foundation of twigs generally of conifer (often green), though sometimes of other species such as birch, beech, or bramble, with roots, grass, and lichen, inside which layer of compressed beard-lichen c. 3 cm thick, then layer of fragments of decayed wood and moss c. 8 cm thick, followed by some earth mixed with various fibres, etc., and lastly lining of grass, rootlets, lichen and hair rarely feathers.
Clutch size 3-4 ragning from 2-5. Incubation period is
about 18 days and the young fledge in 23-26 days.

Feeding habits

Main food consists of 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.

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.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Spotted Nutcracker status Least Concern


Western race (nominate caryocatactes) and most Asian races chiefly resident, with weak invasions occasionally reported; Siberian race (macrorhynchos) eruptive migrant. Eruptive (diurnal) migration of Siberian race associated with failure of pine seed crop, especially Siberian stone pine. Migration exceptional in that little or no return movement occurs in following spring, most birds failing to survive, though a few breed in wintering areas in subsequent year(s); some return towards area of origin a few weeks after emigrating, however. Eruptions reach Britain, southern France, and northern Italy in exceptional years. Coastlines act as leading lines, and expanses of water as barriers. Recent invasions of western Europe in 1968 (after which breeding colonies established in Belgium), 1971, 1977 (after which birds bred in Finland and Sweden), 1985, and notably 1995.

Distribution map

Spotted Nutcracker distribution range map

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