Surviving on Food Storage
In winter there is not much food around in our mountains, but for the common squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) that’s not a problem at all. When there is a surplus of food in better times, squirrels us food storage techniques. Autumn is a particularly busy time for these furry forest dwellers because that’s the time of year to prepare for winter. But squirrels aren’t the only ones storing food: the most impressive food stasher in the Alps is the spotted nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes).
Thousands of seeds and nuts
You’ll often hear a nutcracker before you see one. This noisy bird is the size of a jay (both belong to the corvid family) and has brown plumage with remarkable white speckles. Like all birds, nutcrackers need a lot of energy to keep warm during cold winters, but since food is scarce this time of year, the nutcracker has stashed his meals in advance. In autumn when food is abundant, a single nutcracker buries thousands(!) of seeds and nuts.
Although the nutcracker buries thousands of nuts and seeds scattered throughout the forest, the bird has no problem retrieving his treasures during winter. Nutcrackers have incredible memories and recall exactly where they have buried all their nuts and seeds. They remember the exact angle of their flight from a tree branch to a hiding place (see drawing), which allows them to retrieve their stashes even from underneath a thick layer of snow!
Nutcrackers bury such an incredible stock with so many seeds and nuts that they can never use all of it during winter. Many seeds and nuts stay buried. In this way, nutcrackers contribute on a large scale to the planting of new trees in the forest.
To be continued…
This blog is part of a series in which I discuss some of the extraordinary strategies and adaptations of wildlife coping with winter in the Alps: