[Tweeters] "Purple-throated" Nutcrackers

Jeff Kozma jcr_5105 at charter.net
Sat Sep 24 20:40:45 PDT 2016

I (and Teresa Lorenz) have seen “Orange-faced White-headed Woodpeckers” frequently in the Wenas area of eastern WA, particularly in years of a heavy ponderosa pine crop. Their faces get an orangish/pink stain around the beak area in mid-late summer when they start to feed on the unripe ponderosa pine cones. So, ponderosa pine cones must contain some of the same anthocyanins, but perhaps not to the degree that white-bark pine does. These stains may show up more on the white face of these birds, compared to the gray plumage of nutcrackers.

Jeff Kozma


From: tweeters-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu [mailto:tweeters-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu] On Behalf Of Gudalewicz Dasha
Sent: Saturday, September 24, 2016 5:49 PM
To: Guy <lguy_Mcw at yahoo.com>
Cc: Paulson Dennis <dennispaulson at comcast.net>; Tweeters <tweeters at u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: [Tweeters] "Purple-throated" Nutcrackers

Thanks to just one word “anthocyanins” I could widen my search and found this article!


“While harvesting seed, nutcrackers become covered on their breast and throat with red color from anthocyanins - pigments in cones (Mirov, 1967) - from contact with the broken ends of scales.”

I think, mystery solved :)

Thanks again, Guy!

Dasha Gudalewicz

Sammamish, WA

On Sep 24, 2016, at 5:31 PM, Gudalewicz Dasha <dasha at gudalewicz.com <mailto:dasha at gudalewicz.com> > wrote:


That is great!

Thanks a lot!

Dasha Gudalewicz

Sammamish, WA

On Sep 24, 2016, at 5:24 PM, Guy <lguy_Mcw at yahoo.com <mailto:lguy_Mcw at yahoo.com> > wrote:

>From Teresa Lorenz, a couple of years ago, when I also spotted some Nutcrackers with purple faces ...

"Red anthocyanins (pigments) in unripe whitebark pine
cones stain the face and breast feathers of nutcrackers foraging on unripe
cones. "

Guy McWethy

Renton, WA

Lguy_mcw at yahoo

On Sep 24, 2016, at 11:07 AM, Gudalewicz Dasha <dasha at gudalewicz.com <mailto:dasha at gudalewicz.com> > wrote:

Hello Tweets,

Two weeks ago at Sunrise, Mount Rainier, I saw and photographed a nutcracker with throat stained pinkish/purplish. That reminded me that three years ago, in July, 2013, I saw two birds with similar stains, also at Sunrise.

First six images here:

That made me curious. But I couldn’t find anywhere what causes such staining.

And the only other photos I found online were made in Banff NP:


I asked Dennis Paulson if he ever saw something like that and he did! At Sunrise in October 1974 he photographed what he called “Purple-throated Fruitcrow” :)

Dennis and I think that the most reasonable theory is that immature Whitebark Pine cones produce some kind of purplish stain.

>From Clark’s Nutcracker profile on BNA Online:

“Beginning mid- to late Jul, harvests unripe pine seeds ( <https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/clanut/references#REF7261> Tomback 1978a , <https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/clanut/references#REF7244> Hutchins and Lanner 1982 , <https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/clanut/references#REF41626> Christensen et al. 1991 ). Removes seeds from closed whitebark, piñon, limber, Jeffrey, and ponderosa pine cones…”

But at the same time:

“Whitebark pine seeds stored as early as 15 Aug in Rocky Mtns. and 25 Aug in Sierra Nevada.”

Does anybody know when nutcrackers start collecting Whitebark seeds at Rainier? (as my first sighting was in July)

Have any of you encountered (and probably photographed) stained nutcrackers?

Or have you handled unripe Whitebark cones and can confirm that they stain?
If you’re planning on hiking Rainier (or any other place where Whitebark Pines grow) would you be willing to collect a cone (if it is in the hand’s reach!) and check if it stains?

Thank you!

And happy birding,

Dasha Gudalewicz,

Sammamish, WA

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