The truth about the Corvid-19 and what you need to know – part 6 – the corvid that drives you nuts, or crackers at least.

Over the last few weeks I didn’t manage to make a Corvid-19 article in this series, which doesn’t bode well for coming quickly out of the crisis, as it won’t be finished until I get to the end of the series, but on the plus side we do have some positive news about treatments emerging in the USA and the UK.   Today we continue our review with another Corvus genus member, one of the less well known Corvids, the nutcracker. This is in fact three species from both the old and new world, and 9 subspecies, but we will be focusing on the one with the broadest distribution for our gang of 19 Corvids, namely the spotted nutcracker.

Thanks to Murray B Henson for placing this excellent image of a spotted nutcracker in the Morskie Oko National Park in Poland in the public domain.

We are presenting the info for each Corvid in a similar tabular form and there will be a publication available at the end of the series where you will be able to get hold of the combined table.

Common Name Spotted nutcracker
Other names
German Nussbrecher
French Cassenoix
Russian Кедровка
Polish Orzechówka
Scientific Name Nucifraga caryocatactes
Number of species in the genus 3
Number of subspecies in this species 9
Literal meaning of Scientific name  “Nut shatterer” in Latin and Greek respectively
Described by Linnaeus 1758
First attested in literature Not many references to the species are made in culture. The nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky refers to the metal implement used to crack nuts. In 1693 the word appears in English in the translation of a German travel guide, the bird itself not being found in the UK, although a sister species, Clark’s nutcracker, is found in Western North America but William Clark, the explorer for whom it was named (not in Latin though – it is Nucifraga columbiana – described to science in 1811 based on Clark’s specimen by Scottish naturalist Alexander Wilson, dubbed the ‘father of American ornithology”) only discovered it in 1805.
Wingspan (cm) 53
Length bill to tail (cm) 38
Distribution Again this Eurasian species has a very broad range from Sweden and Poland in the West to the Pacific Coasts of Siberia and China as well as upland Japan. The Himalayan species of nutcracker, the large spotted nutcracker (N. multipunctata) is considered a distinct species. Despite its name it is not significantly larger than the spotted nutcracker.
Remarks They have a range of vocalisations and are social. Their diet is largely the seeds of pine cones and cedar nuts, giving rise to the Russian name of “Kedrovka”. They do not actually crack heavily shelled nuts with their beaks in the way the implement called a nutcracker does, with the exception of some local subspecies adapted for the cracking of hazlenuts. They store the seeds which they do not eat.
Migrations Some of the nine subspecies migrated slightly within the range.
Sexual dimorphism Barely noticeable. Pairs remain together for life and both partners feed the young.
Close relatives The nutcrackers are in a subfamily of Corvids on their own, in fact many people may not realise that they are corvids as they are not a typically crow-like bird. Nevertheless, they are more closely related to true Corvids in the standard cladograms than jays or magpies are.
Not close relatives thought to be close The overall shape of the body and beak could lead one to suspect that the bird is related to the very broad Starling family, including mynahs and a host of tropical birds from the old world, however the Sturnidae are not closely related.
Cultural significance One cannot find much about these birds in literature, poetry or song.