Conserving wildlife at the Westminster Field Station

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NEW WILMINGTON, Pa– On January 23, 2017, Tweetspeak went to the Westminster field station to observe birds in their natural habitat along the Frey Nature Trail. The deliberate actions taken by those at the college to preserve wildlife were clear. The nature trail is a designated wildlife safety zone, meaning there is no hunting, fishing, trapping, or motorized vehicles permitted. This ensures the safety of the wildlife, especially the birds, who experience the most population decline when faced with habitat loss and degradation. The Field Station does its part to conserve the lands important to many species of bird.

The 55 acre area of the Field Station has been owned by the college since 1964. It was designated as a site for research, recreation, and environmental awareness in 1980, according to the Field Station Facebook page. Its mission is for students to:

  • develop intellectual curiosity and the competencies to reason logically and evaluate critically
  • acquire a knowledge and appreciation of the natural world
  • develop and demonstrate moral and ethical commitments to society and the natural world
  • commit themselves to lifelong learning and responsible service as world citizens

The Field Station land includes many habitats like forest, wetland, lowland thicket, field, marsh, and stream. That means Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers can live freely with lots of trees for nest cavities, alongside Northern Cardinals that spend more time around feeders and shrubby forest edges.

More than just a designated wildlife safety zone, the college woods are also a certified Audubon Society Wildlife Sanctuary, protecting birds specifically. According to the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania there are more threats to bird habitats and life in general due to urbanization. By creating bird-friendly communities, different groups can help provide homes for birds. Choose native plants to restore the habitats and build structures such as birdhouses for a better chance of survival. Some examples of native plants at Westminster are Sycamore trees, Black Walnut trees, Hawthorne trees, and Skunk cabbage.

Dr. Patrick Krantz, the director of the outdoor laboratory, has bird feeders to provide wintering or year round birds in this region access to food even when resources are scarce. This allows the birds to stay in the area without the fear of running out of food, or venturing somewhere else to find some. Though birds are a large portion of the conservation efforts at the field station, Krantz is doing more with his classes to help conservation of other species, such as butterflies and bees.

By building a butterfly and bee garden, providing food sources specifically for them, the field station helps the declining population of bees, which are extremely necessary in our ecosystems because of pollination. Native to this region, Mason bees do not live in hives, so in the gardens are small boxes that provide a habitat for the bees to continue natural pollination.

“At a distance they look like bluebird boxes, but they’re really for our native pollinators. We have native bees here, Mason orchard bees that doesn’t live in a hive… they’re more solitary. If you visit our bee and butterfly garden you’ll see things like bluebird houses with a bunch of little holes drilled in it” Krantz stated about protecting the native mason bees by providing a house for them.

The Westminster field station is extremely important to the conservation of countless species of wildlife, specifically birds, by creating bird friendly environments and teaching students about the importance of conservation. For example, though no one saw a Wood Duck, there are Wood Duck boxes set up by the stream. Wood Ducks are the size of an average duck with a glossy green head (for males) and buffy sides. Females are browner with white speckles. They stay in small groups and nest in trees near wooded swamps and marshes. Nest boxes give them more places to live and attracts breeding pairs.

Other birds protected by the Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary status include:

  • Northern Cardinals
  • Blue Jays
  • Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • and other year-round birds found in Western Pennsylvania

Written and produced by Anna Daniels and Katie Nicholson.

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