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Brown-headed nuthatches return to Missouri

The publication of 46 Brown-headed nuthatch, relocated from Arkansas to restored Missouri pine forests Mark Twain National Forest This species returned to the state in August and September 2020. The brown-capped songbird has been absent since the early 20th century following widespread habitat loss.

“I really think a big takeaway from all of this and something we can all be proud of is how well science, management and conservation have come together in this effort,” said Jane Fitzgerald, ABC’s Central Hardwoods Joint Venture ( CHJV) coordinator. “Most of the people who envisioned all of this decades ago are now retired, but a new roster of people has seen and seen the vision and is moving the ball forward. In the inner highlands we really are a conservation community, and I hope that will continue to be the case for decades to come. “

During the pre-colonial period, 6.6 million acres of shortleaf pine and pine-oak forests covered the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. After settlement and development, which included widespread deforestation and fire fighting, these ecosystems were reduced to approximately 600,000 acres. The dramatic reduction in habitat resulted in the extinction – or regional disappearance – of some of the species of birds that tied these open pinelands, including the red-tailed woodpecker and the brown-headed nuthatch.

Brown-headed nuthatch, Copyright Frank Mantlik, from the Surfbirds Galleries

The nuthatch release was only possible after successful restoration of the habitat, which required years of hard work and patience. Although the Mark Twain National Forest had actively restored 12,000 acres of pine forest in the Eleven Point Ranger District by 2006, work sped up significantly as the forest cut through Collaborative program to restore the forest landscape (CFLRP). The CFLRP, administered by the US Forest Service, aims to promote collaborative, science-based restoration of priority forest landscapes in and around national forest areas in the United States.

To build that collaboration, ABC and the CHJV have brought together key partners, including federal, state, and nongovernmental organizations and agencies, who have officially agreed to work together to restore pine forests in the same great landscape called Current River Hills. In 2012, the Mark Twain National Forest received ten-year dedicated funding and now approximately 100,000 acres of short-leaved pine and pine-oak forests have been or are being restored. It was this habitat restoration work that was crucial in establishing the area as a place where brown-headed nuthatches can be brought back.

Shortly after restoration work began in Missouri, a team of researchers from the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the University of Missouri pooled resources to study various aspects of avian biology and quantify the preferred habitat conditions of brown-headed nuthatch in Arkansas ;; Show how Missouri restoration efforts benefited other songbirds while confirming the continued absence of nuthatch; Build habitat models; and assessment of habitat structure at the Mark Twain restoration sites.

In addition, the state ornithologist from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and a wildlife biologist at the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station worked with ecologists at Tall Timbers Research Station in Florida who had experience with Brown-Headed Nuthatch translocations. With this input, they developed methods to safely capture the birds in Arkansas and then transport them safely to Missouri.

Since the nuthatches were released on public land, everyone can see these birds. Visitors to the Mark Twain National Forest can help monitor the presence and movements of the nuthatch by submitting their observations to the eBird database (www.ebird.org).

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