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With help, Brown-headed Nuthatch returns to Missouri

Brown-headed Nuthatch
A Brown-headed Nuthatch perches in a shortleaf pine tree at Ouachita National Forest near Hot Springs, Arkansas, before being translocated to Missouri. Photo by Noppadol Paothong/Missouri Department of Conservation

Over the past few centuries, fire suppression and overharvesting greatly reduced Missouri’s open pine and mixed-pine woodlands. As the habitats dwindled, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and other pine-specialist species vanished from the state.

In August and September of 2020, however, 46 Brown-headed Nuthatches found their way back — flown in on a Missouri Department of Conservation plane from neighboring Arkansas and released into Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest. The translocation was necessary because pine woodlands are not continuous from Arkansas to Missouri and because the nuthatches are nonmigratory. Within the national forest, years of habitat restoration laid the groundwork for what conservationists hope will become a new breeding population there.

Frank Thompson of the University of Missouri and the U.S Forest Service releases a Brown-headed Nuthatch at Mark Twain National Forest. Photo by Noppadol Paothong/Missouri Department of Conservation

Under the U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, 10 years of funding was awarded to the Mark Twain National Forest in 2012. American Bird Conservancy and the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture (CHJV) helped bring together federal, state, and nongovernmental organizations and agencies that formally agreed to work together to restore pine woods in a large landscape called the Current River Hills. It’s also a designated ABC BirdScape. Today, around 100,000 acres of shortleaf pine and pine-oak woodland have been or are being restored, including crucial habitat for the newly released nuthatches.

“I really think that a big take-home from all of this, and something we can all be proud of, is how well science, management, and conservation of species came together in this effort,” says Jane Fitzgerald, ABC’s coordinator for the joint venture. “Most of the people who, decades ago, imagined all of this happening are now retired, but a new cadre of folks saw, and see, the vision and are moving the ball forward. In the Interior Highlands, we really are a conservation community, and I hope that continues for decades to come.”

In addition to ABC and CHJV, partners in the restoration and nuthatch translocation include the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the University of Missouri, and Tall Timbers Research Station.

Because the nuthatches were released on public land, anyone can see these birds. Mark Twain National Forest visitors can help monitor the nuthatches’ presence and movements by submitting their observations to the eBird database (

This article was first published in “Birding Briefs” in the March/April 2021 issue of BirdWatching magazine. 

Juvenile Brown-headed Nuthatches use tools in the wild

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American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It contributes the “Eye on Conservation” column in each issue of BirdWatching.

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