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story.lead_photo.caption In this photo taken April 26, 2020, provided by Michael P. Kopack Jr., is a brown-headed nuthatch bird in Angier, North Carolina. As the new coronavirus drags on, interest in birdwatching has soared nationwide as bored Americans look up from their Zoom meetings or the unemployment website and notice a fascinating world just outside their window. (Michael P. Kopack via AP)

The Missouri Department of Conservation and its partners have brought the once-native brown-headed nuthatch back to Missouri.

Reintroduction efforts were made possible through the department's partnerships with the 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 1940s following the removal of the state's last swaths of shortleaf pine woodlands across the Missouri Ozarks. Millions of acres of pine woods existed in the state prior to widespread logging that denuded the Ozarks in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The regenerated forest was dominated by oaks and hickories that replaced pines. The necessary habitat exists for these birds to thrive in Missouri again after extensive restoration of pine woodlands in the Mark Twain National Forest.

"Brown-headed nuthatches are pine specialists and excavate their own cavities in pine tree snags, or dead trees, every year," said Sarah Kendrick, Missouri's state ornithologist. "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, which measures four inches in length. The species is a nonmigratory, year-round resident. They're relatively weak fliers, so their dispersal a few hundred miles north without connecting shortleaf pine habitat is highly unlikely.

In August, the department staff and partners began releasing nuthatches from the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas to sites within the Mark Twain National Forest. They were released in areas 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 August 2021.

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