With help, Brown-Headed Nuthatch returns to Missouri
Over the past few centuries, fire fighting and over-harvesting have greatly reduced Missouri’s open pine and mixed pine forests. As habitats shrank, the brown-headed nuthatch, red cockatoo woodpecker, and other species that specialized in pine disappeared from the state.
However, in August and September 2020, 46 brown-headed nuthatches found their way back – they were flown in from neighboring Arkansas on a Missouri Department of Conservation plane and released into the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. The relocation was necessary because the pine forests from Arkansas to Missouri are not continuous and because the nuthatches do not migrate. Years of habitat restoration within the national forest laid the foundation for the conservationists’ hope of becoming a new breeding population there.
Frank Thompson of the University of Missouri and the US Forest Service releases a brown-headed nuthatch in the Mark Twain National Forest. Photo by Noppadol Paothong / Missouri Department of Conservation
In 2012, the US Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program awarded funds for ten years to the Mark Twain National Forest. American Bird Conservancy and the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture (CHJV) helped bring together federal, state, and non-governmental organizations that formally agreed to work together to restore pine forests in a large landscape called the Current River Hills. It’s also a designated ABC BirdScape. Today around 100,000 hectares of short-leaved pine and pine-oak forests have been or are being restored, including the crucial habitat for the newly released nuthatches.
“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 coordinator for the joint venture . “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 it will continue to do so in the decades to come. “
In addition to ABC and CHJV, partners in restoration and nuthatch translocation include the Northern Research Station of the Forest Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the University of Missouri and the Tall Timbers Research Station.
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 movement of the nuthatch by submitting their observations to the eBird database (www.ebird.org).
This article was first published in Birding Briefs in the March / April 2021 issue of BirdWatching magazine.
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