Northeast CASC Researchers Return Brown-Headed Nuthatches to Missouri After Almost Century Absence

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The University of Missouri and Northeast CASC recently highlighted an assisted migration project by Northeast CASC researchers attempting to bring brown-headed nuthatches back to Missouri.

Small grey songbird with brown head sits among leafless branches before an empty grey sky.

Brown-headed nuthatch sits on branches in Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Credit: Warren Bielenberg, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

(Public domain.)

Read the original news articles posted by the University of Missouri here and Northeast CASC here.

It has been over 100 years since the “rubber ducky squeak” of the brown-headed nuthatch has been heard in Missouri, after the small songbird fell victim to habitat loss due to logging and fire suppression in the early 20th century. Yet in the summer of 2020, Northeast CASC-funded researchers partnered with the Missouri Department of Conservation to release 25 brown-headed nuthatches into the newly-restored oak and shortleaf pine forests of Mark Twain National Forest. The researchers hope that moving the birds into this favorable environment, a management technique known as assisted migration, will allow the species to recolonize its former home and to help return the once-destroyed pine forests to their former glory. They further hope that monitoring the birds’ survival will provide insights into developing effective assisted migration plans, viewed as a key adaptation tool for land managers in the face of impending climate change. The authors report that the birds appear to be doing well and they plan to release another 75 nuthatches by the end of next year.

“This project represents a unique experiment,” says lead author and Northeast CASC researcher Thomas Bonnot. “It is simultaneously helping to restore an ecosystem that was almost completely wiped out while also affording the opportunity to learn more about an adaptation method that will become increasingly important as the impacts of climate change intensify."

This research is part of the Northeast CASC funded project “Development and Evaluation of Climate Change Adaptation Tools.”

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