Braving the cold at Jennings

This Tuesday, the 9th of February, we had an exciting field trip down to the Jennings Environmental Education Center. Dr. Duerr informed us that we would need to be bundled up for some cold-weather-birding. This being said, we did get to enjoy the warmth of being in the Nature Center at Jennings for the first part of our field trip. Having never been to this state park, I was excited to learn about its unique features.



True to their mission of fostering environmental education, two representative staff members from the Center gave us a talk which expanded our knowledge on birds as well as the conservation that goes into protecting these birds’ habitats. We started off by refreshing our knowledge on general information about citizen science and bird identification.


Along with the cool showcase of bird taxidermy, my interest was piqued by how many different kinds of field guides there displayed. One book in particular (the one to the far left in the picture) was pointed out to be especially helpful in bird identification because it provids ‘field marks.’ These marks show the unique characteristics that distinguish one bird or species from another. I thought that this was a very useful tool.

Indoor birding

During the talk I couldn’t help but be slightly distracted by all the movement that was going on at the bird feeders just outside the windows. Going over a list of potential birds at the feeders, I was surprised that there were so many  different species.

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Because we saw so many birds of the same species fly in and out, it was hard to tell if we were seeing the same individuals or new ones. To tackle this dilemma, we recorded the highest amount of an individual bird species that was seen at one time. The four most prevalent birds were the Tufted Titmouse (5), Black-capped Chickadee (3), White-breasted Nuthatch (3), and the American Goldfinch (5).

24803106112_0bcb06dcf1_zAlong with seeing a large diversity of bird
species, we were also able to use headphones to hear the birds as they made their calls and fluttered around. For example, while we didn’t see the Brown Creeper, we were able to identify it by its distinctive high pitched call.


All bundled up for birding outside, we headed on our way to explore the habitats of the park. Stopping for a brief 10 minutes, along the way, I got to hear pishing for the first time. Pishing involves a series of sounds that are made to attract birds. After the pishing, I could definitely hear more birds as they reacted to the sound.

While briefly browsing online about any information on pishing, I noticed that there was a noticeable emphasis on the negative influence of pishing. An article from Audubon emphasizes that sound made from pishing, but more particularly from recorded playbacks, can be stressful to birds and distract them from normal routines. Instead of being distracted by these sounds, they could be foraging, watching over a nest, or looking for a mate. I would say that, while pishing can be harmful, if it is kept to a minimum, it should be alright to do it for brief moment.


A key feature of the national park at Jennings is its 20-acre prairie ecosystem. It is the only protected prairie in Pennsylvania. It is also the home of the Massasauga Rattlesnake which is protected as an endangered species. While observing the prairie, we learned about the important role it plays for birds and other species.


Interestingly enough, I learned that Jennings uses prescribed burning to manage the prairie. This is kept under careful control. Also, to replace the natural grazing of bisons, Jennings performs seasonal cutting of the prairie grass to help control overgrowth.

Click here to learn more about the prairie management at Jennings.

Into the woods and back

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Despite the cold weather, we still saw some birds. While we did not see as many birds in the woods, we got to see various habitats. These included the prairie habitat, woodlands, and a lower wetland habitat. We noticed that most of the birds we saw were closer to the nature center, probably because of all the food provided at the feeders.

If anyone is looking for a great place to go birding, I would recommend going to Jennings on a not-so-cold day.



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