With the help of partnerships and extensive habitat restoration, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is delighted to bring the once-native Brown-headed Nuthatch back to Missouri. Reintroduction efforts were made possible through MDC’s partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service’s Mark Twain National Forest, Ouachita National Forest and Northern Research Station, the University of Missouri, and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Brown-headed Nuthatches were extirpated, or made locally extinct, in Missouri likely around the 1930s or 40s following the removal of the state’s last swaths of shortleaf pine woodlands across the Missouri Ozarks. Millions of acres of pine woodland existed in the state prior to widespread logging that denuded the Ozarks in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The regenerated forest that we see today is dominated by oaks and hickories that replaced pines after their removal. Now, after extensive restoration of pine woodlands in the Mark Twain National Forest, the necessary habitat exists for these birds to thrive in the Show-Me State.
“Brown-headed Nuthatches are pine specialists and excavate their own cavities in pine tree snags, or dead trees, every year,” explained MDC State Ornithologist Sarah Kendrick. “By creating new cavities each year, these birds provide cavities for other cavity-nesters, like chickadees and titmice.”
The Brown-headed Nuthatch is a small songbird that measures 4-inches in length. The species is a non-migratory, year-round resident. They’re relatively weak fliers, so their dispersal a few hundred miles north without connecting shortleaf pine habitat is highly unlikely.
Last week, MDC and partners began releasing nuthatches from Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas to sites within the Mark Twain National Forest that have been managed with tree-thinning and prescribed fire for up to 20 years. This year’s goal is 50 birds. Another 50 birds will be released in Aug. 2021.
“This is a great example of ecosystem restoration — when you bring back the habitat, you can bring back some of the species that have been lost along the way,” Kendrick noted. “I encourage everyone to visit our shortleaf pineries after the reintroduction to look for this charismatic species. We brought the squeak back to Missouri!”
For more information about the Brown-headed Nuthatch and to hear its rubber-ducky-like squeak, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Brown-headed_Nuthatch/overview.