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The stone pine forests of Obergurgl and Vent, but also the sparse stands of trees above the tree line within Ötztal are home to a highly intelligent raven bird.

Regional naming

"Tannenhäher" is the official German name of this corvid bird. Regionally it is also called nut jay or nut raven. In the Alps, it is best known as the stone pine jay because it prefers to live in the high pine forests all year round. In Tirol the bird is also called "Zirbengratsche" onomatopoeically - because of the characteristic hoarse, croaking call that it emits when danger is approaching, and which other high mountain animals also take as a warning.


Gurgl village

Well feathered family constellation

In contrast to other songbirds, Mr. and Mrs. Nutcracker do not differ in their plumage. They live in pairs or small family groups and build their nest for the offspring together, high up in the stone pine tree tops, very close to the tree trunk. When breeding, the parents take turns, and then they feed the three to four young birds as a team. Nutcrackers are sedentary birds, they keep their territory for the rest of their lives, the latter lasts a maximum of 15 years in the wild. The young birds always settle in the vicinity of their place of birth.


Gurgl Zirbe

Superfood for a super brain

In summer, nutcrackers also eat berries, fruit and insects. Of course, their favorite food is the stone pine cone seeds which we mistakenly call stone pine nuts or stone pine kernels. To be on the safe side, the birds collect vast quantities of it for the barren winter in the high mountains. With their powerful beaks, they chisel away the scales from the cone, pick out the nuts and store up to 100 seeds in the crop. Within a radius of 12 to 15 km, each bird sets up countless stores for the winter, resulting in 10,000 to 14,000 hiding places per year. The most fascinating thing: the super intelligent bird finds 80 to 90% of its food stores again - even under a blanket of snow that is meters thick, through which it digs a sloping tunnel.

Gurgl hiking forest

Forest ranger with wings

Until well into the 20th century, the nutcracker was insulted and hunted as a robber. It was said that his passion for collecting was responsible for the disappearance of the pine forests in the Alps. Hunting only stopped in 1961, when scientific studies showed: it is the bird that ensures the continued existence of the stone pine forests through regeneration and expansion. The real pest turned out to be the human being who overexploited the very slowly growing pine forests.


In the Nature Park House and at its six information points within the valley, the Ötztal Nature Park provides detailed information about the protected flora and fauna of the area as well as guided hikes and events in the valley at: www.naturpark-oetztal.at

Isolde v. Mersi

Guest author: Isolde v. Mersi

Isolde von Mersi comes from South Tyrol's Pustertal valley and lives in Vienna now. As a popular reporter and book writer for Austrian and German magazines and publishing houses, she explores a huge variety of cultural, culinary and naturalistic treasures of the Alpine countries and its people.

She has been feeling at home in Ötztal for many years already as she contributes to the ÖTZTAL MAGAZINE on a regular basis. And she has found many friends in the valley.