SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa.—The Tweetspeak team headed to Jennings Environmental Education Center on February 7. Uniquely combining Pennsylvania prairie and forest, Jennings is home to various forms of plant and animal life, but what we were really after was the variety of bird species there. We spent nearly an hour inside the little building, learning about birding from inside.
The feeders teemed with life, despite the intermittent rain, from nuthatches and chickadees, to titmice and even the occasional woodpecker. When the rain quit for a little while, we headed out to a muddy trail in search of something more interesting that the same species we saw over and over again.
In the middle of our walk, we came to a stop to observe our surroundings. Aside from the squelch of boots in mud, a few calls bouncing around the trees could be heard. Suddenly a new, high pitched call rose from the brush near us. We searched with our binoculars until someone pinpointed the location of the call. Whatever it was, it was practically right in front of us. More of the team spotted it, and then suddenly there were two. We began to describe them, the first step in bird identification when you meet an unfamiliar species. Some people whispered short descriptions, which included the following:
- Grayish, olive green body
- Bright yellow crest or “crown” outlined in black
- Black eye stripes or “eyeline”
- Round, plump body
- Barely larger than a hummingbird
- Small wings
- Thin tail
- Relatively large head in comparison to body
- Short, thin bill
Since we did not yet know this species, we moved on to the second step in identifying an unfamiliar species. Using the observations we had just made, we pulled out a field guide to try to identify our bird. After some riffling and a whole lot of comparison, we finally found it: the Golden-crowned Kinglet. As the moments went on, it was clear that this was our bird. A rare find, not for our area or time of year, but simply because they aren’t typically found on the ground, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s allaboutbirds.org. The two birds fled nearly as soon as they came, only a minute or so after we spotted them.
As insectivores, kinglets will eat anything from caterpillars to beetles and most anything in between, according to the Audubon Society’s website. Even the eggs of most insects could be considered a tasty kinglet snack. For the most part, they will spend most of their time high up, gleaning, or extracting, these insects from bark and leaves. If the tops of trees are where these little guys prefer to stay, how did we spot them so easily?
For the most part, I think it can be summed up as being in the right place at the right time. While not an uncommon or even an antisocial species, kinglets do have a specific niche in the canopies of forests, and they don’t typically need to be on the ground. They will, however, forage on the ground on occasion, which must have been when we caught them.
So despite the day being dreary, dark, and wet, and despite getting rained on, this Jennings trip should be counted as a win. Not only did we get to explore an awesome facility and sharpen up our birding skills, we also managed to unearth a true gem.