BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCHES, OZARK NF near Northwest Arkansas City March 20, 2016

Brown-headed Nuthatch Shores Lake -Fern area ONF March 19, 2016-2-rsBrown-headed Nuthatch Shores Lake -Fern area ONF March 19, 2016-4-rs


Within its broad permanent range in the southeastern US, Brown-headed Nuthatches have been eliminated in the northwest of their former range, including all of Missouri and most of northwest Arkansas. However, years ago, Bill Beall from Fort Smith began documenting them in the Shortleaf Pine forests in the Shores Lake-Fern region of the Ozark NF in Franklin County.

This is the closest place to find these birds if you live in  Northwest Arkansas City, the burgeoning metroplex,  Fayetteville-Bentonville with I-49 as its Main Street. In recent years, Bill has been leader for an annual Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society field trip that centers on this nuthatch population. This trip has benefitted greatly from involvement by Jim Nieting, also from Fort Smith, who has accompanied Bill and his wife Toka on scouting trips before the NWAAS trip.

They did this spring’s scout on March 12, finding 27 nuthatches at 18 stops – I think a new record. When we had our NWAAS field trip on March 19, our plans were to make each of these stops until everyone had satisfactory views of these birds, which can be difficult to spot in tree tops, among small brown cones. Nothing to worry about, however: we had 2 at stop 1, 2 at stop 2; so we quit nuthatches and went on to other birds.

Many, many thanks to NWAAS treasurer Bill Beall, who has now rolled up an absolutely incredible 7+ decades of Arkansas birding. His work as treasurer has kept NWAAS on a solid footing, too.

Bill attributes the relatively high nuthatch numbers to Forest Service management policies in the Boston Mountain Ranger District of the Ozark NF. It’s native pine, much of it mature, with many large trees. It reminds me of good Red-cockaded Woodpecker habitat in the Ouachita NF to the south. Harvests seem to be done by thinning and opening the forest, leaving many trees, followed by prescribed burns. Based upon our trips to see Brown-headed Nuthatches, it’s working for them, too.

Joe Neal

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