Student Stories: His research is for the birds -- literally

May 27, 2011

University Park, Pa. — Penn State Wildlife and Fisheries Science major James Feaga conducted research last summer on avian use of restored wetlands through the McNair Scholarship program.

The senior from McSherrystown, Pa., was accepted into the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program in spring 2010. The goal of the program is to increase the attainment of doctoral degrees by students from under-represented segments of society.

Feaga, who recently was accepted to graduate school at Mississippi State University, attributes much of his success to the program. "I was able to attend workshops and seminars dealing with aspects of graduate life and seek personal academic guidance from a faculty mentor, and I was prepared for graduate-level research at the Summer Research Internship."

The Summer Research Internship is a nine-week internship during which McNair Scholars perform graduate-level research under the direction of a faculty advisor and complete a course in research methodology.

"I started my current research during the program," he said. "I am researching avian use of restored wetlands in the ridge and valley region of Pennsylvania."

Feaga performed a comparative study to see how the avian communities and ecology of the restored wetlands changed since they were first constructed.

Although Feaga did have to rise pretty early in the morning to get to his research site, once there he was able to do what he loves. "I had to get up at 3 in the morning and drive for a couple hours to get to the wetlands before daylight to perform my surveys -- it's definitely what I liked least about my research," he said.

"But I enjoy being outside, working with my hands and discovering things that weren't previously known -- my research allows me to do that," he added.

While studying the restored wetlands, Feaga discovered that the avian communities are indeed suffering. "What we can tell from my study is that the wetlands have changed significantly over time, and the avian communities have diminished," he said.

Feaga hopes that his research will be useful in the construction of future wetlands and in present restoration attempts.

"The objective with restored wetlands is to replenish the wetland ecosystems that were previously destroyed," he said. "The goal of my work was to assess the changes and present constructers of wetlands with methods to provide healthier and more sustainable habitats that better mimic natural wetlands."

Although Feaga first pursued a career in the culinary arts, earning several degrees and certifications for his efforts, his desire to be outside led him down a different path.

"I still enjoy cooking for friends and family, but being inside all the time wasn't for me," he said. "I've always been passionate about wildlife and the outdoors -- I just never realized I could make a career out of it!"

  • James Feaga conducting wetlands research.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 27, 2011