Nature Lab

By Dianne Van Dien | June 1, 2022
From Missouri Conservationist: June 2022

Bird Conservation

Brown-Headed Nuthatch Restoration

In the fall of 2021, MDC and partners relocated 56 brown-headed nuthatches from Arkansas to the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri, completing phase two of a restoration project.

A few historical records place brown-headed nuthatches in Missouri in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but none are recorded after that time — likely due to the loss of shortleaf pine forests from logging operations. When the U.S. Forest Service restored the pine habitat over the last 30 years, a diversity of woodland birds moved in, but no brown-headed nuthatches. “Brown-headed nuthatches are nonmigratory and are not long-distance dispersers,” says former State Ornithologist Sarah Kendrick.

So, a multi-agency team of biologists devised a plan to capture nuthatches in Arkansas, where their population is healthy, and relocate them to the restored pine habitat in Missouri’s Ozarks. Forty-six were moved in 2020. These birds handled the transition well, as have the 56 birds that were moved in 2021.

Half of the nuthatches from each group were fitted with radio tags so biologists could track their survival. The tags’ tiny batteries lasted only for a month, so biologists now monitor the nuthatches monthly with two-person teams who look and listen for the birds. “Every bird was fitted with a metal federal band as well as unique color bands so we can tell which individuals we’re resighting,” explains Kendrick. “We use binoculars and a camera to confirm the color bands.”

While initial results are promising, long-term success hinges on maintaining the pine woodlands through forest thinning and prescribed fire. “The Mark Twain National Forest managers worked hard to put the habitat on the ground,” says Kendrick. “Their work has paid off, and partners were able to bring back this species.”

Brown-Headed Nuthatch Restoration at a Glance

Restoration Numbers

  • 46 nuthatches relocated in fall of 2020
  • 56 nuthatches relocated in fall of 2021
  • 6 nests located and monitored in summer 2021


  • U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station
  • Missouri Department of Conservation
  • University of Missouri
  • Ouachita National Forest (AR)
  • Mark Twain National Forest (MO)
  • Tall Timbers Research Station (FL)
  • Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
  • Central Hardwoods Joint Venture
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Brown-headed nuthatches depend on pine woodland habitat, where they forage high in the treetops. These tiny birds weigh 10 grams (slightly less than an Oreo cookie) and are known for their squeaka squeaka vocalization that resembles the sound of a rubber ducky.

To learn more about the restoration efforts, visit The Squeak is Back at


This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation Manager - Laura Scheuler