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May 1934Volume 9, Number 2


By Park Naturalist Edwin D. McKee.

IN the Southwest where Pinyon Pines grow, it is generally recognized that the seeds or "nuts" of these trees constitute a very important native food product. Much has been said and written about how man and beast alike, how white man as well as Indian, relish the flavor of this food. Much description also has been devoted to the various ways in which this nut is prepared for use by native Indians and how various rodents and certain birds such as chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches will fight for and store away in great quantity, this delicacy. It is probable, nevertheless, that few people really know how widespread is the desire for the pinyon nut and how general is the preference for it above all other foods among the native birds at least.

It is readily conceded by nearly everyone that jays are among the most greedy devourers of pinyon nuts and yet it can not be taken for granted that they always knew the secret of this important food. In support of this statement, is the interesting fact that a friend living in eastern United States where pinyon pines are unknown tried feeding the "nut" of this tree to the native jays. These birds paid no attention to the offers of food for several days, apparently not realizing that the nuts were good to eat. Some days later, however, they found the nuts cracked open and after once tasting them seemed to enjoy this new food as thoroughly as do their western relatives.

At the large and much patronized bird-feeding station on the South Rim of Grand Canyon operated by Chief Ranger and Mrs. J. P. Brooks a surprisingly great variety1 as well as large number of birds come daily to feed and here many experiments with types of food have been tried out from time to time. It has been found that every species of bird that visits the station will not only eat pinyon nuts but even likes them as well if not better than any other food offered. This was not always the case, however. To begin with, many species apparently were unable either to crack them open or to eat them unshelled, while certain others that very probably could have broken the shells did not realize the advantage in so doing.

1. McKee, E. D., "Feathered friends", Grand Canyon Nature Notes, Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 15 - 16, November 1929.

When cracked nuts are put out it has been found, strangely enough, that natural seed-eaters such as juncos and chip ping sparrows actually prefer them to various types of grain and that robins hold them in equal esteem with their much-loved raisins. Even bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, and Cassin's Purple Finches will eat them with relish.

Two especially interesting advocates of a pinyon nut diet are Mr. and Mrs. Raven who have made headquarters near the Brook's feeding station for several years. At the start one of the pair was very shy. It so happened that one day Mrs. Brooks observed its more fearless mate scoop-up a regular "cup-full" of cracked pinyon nuts with its huge bill, carry them about fifty feet through the woods to the shy companion and dump them in the anew at its feet. Thus, the raven show ed that the pinyon nut was in its opinion a prize worth under going dangers to obtain and a royal gift for its mate.

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