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With the Wild Things
Weekdays @ 7:20 AM

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With the Wild Things is hosted by wildlife biologist Dr. Jerry Jackson and produced by the Whitaker Center in the College of Arts & Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Funded by the Environmental Education Grant Program of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, With the Wild Things is a one-minute look at a particular environmental theme.

Dr. Jackson takes you through your backyard, and Southwest Florida’s beaches, swamps and preserves to learn about “the wild things”.

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  • White Ibises are common birds in Florida – sometimes locally known as “Chokoloskee Chicken” – because a century ago they were commonly eaten. They stand about two feet tall, have a long thin, pink bill that is red with a black tip during nesting, and they often feed in groups. While they are wetland birds, they also frequent yards, performing a service for us by eating sod webworms.
  • The Brown-headed Nuthatch is a tiny bird with a very short tail and a very squeaky voice. Indeed, its voice sounds like that of a “rubber ducky”. The Brown-headed Nuthatch is one of three nuthatch species found in Florida, but the only one regularly found in south Florida. The Brown-headed Nuthatch is a bird of pines and is found in pinelands of Florida and the Southeast. It is a bird that feeds on insects and spiders that it finds in bark crevices and among the needles of pines. It eats pine seeds retrieved from open cones. Nuthatches fill a niche somewhat similar to that of a woodpecker – except that they not only move up a tree surface, but also down – head-first – thus they readily finds insects and spiders from above as well as from below or from the side – approaches that woodpeckers usually take. Like woodpeckers, nuthatches are cavity nesters. They readily excavate their own nest in well-rotted wood, use a natural cavity, or make use of an abandoned woodpecker cavity. Brown-headed Nuthatches are social birds and constantly chatter – squeaking – as they hunt for food.
  • Baby birds always attract our attention – and they are great for introducing kids to nature. Altricial chicks – those that hatch nearly naked and certainly helpless – often with eyes that are not yet opened – seem so helpless. And that is so important. These chicks bring out a nurturing instinct in most of us. But kids and adults need to know that just touching a chick or an egg in a nest can result in death for the tiny bird. Wonderful to observe – and important to observe – from a distance – and for a very short time. Each meal is very important for growing chicks.
  • Dragonflies are readily recognized because of their permanently outstretched wings that seem to twitter through the air rather than fly with a deep flapping flight. They are also often recognized because of their size and association with water. The diversity of dragonflies and damselflies in both color and size may rival the diversity of birds. Males, females, and juveniles also often differ greatly in color, such as in the Eastern Pond Hawk providing dragonfly-watchers with multiple challenges. We even have some invasive exotic dragonflies in our midst – such as the stunning Scarlet Skimmer in Florida.
  • Casuarina refers to a group of tree species native to Australia and named after an Australian bird – the Cassowary – because their needles bear some resemblance to Cassowary’s feathers. They are fast growing, evergreen, salt tolerant, and -- at least in Australia – are used as a source of lumber. Three species of Casuarina have been introduced to Florida. The first and most abundant, Casuarina equisetifolia) was introduced in 1887, the others shortly after that.
  • Saw Palmetto is a small and unusual native palm across the Southeast. It is unusual in that its trunk is partially underground and the rest of it is usually lying on the ground or raised slightly at an angle – often creating a tangle of trunks that can make walking through a “stand” of Saw Palmetto difficult. But this is not what makes a Saw Palmetto thicket difficult to traverse. Saw-tooth like spines extend from both edges of the stem of Saw Palmetto, making walking through a thicket in shorts a painful experience. But Saw Palmetto also has several good sides to it. It is tolerant of the frequent lightning-started fires in the Slash Pine/Longleaf Pine ecosystems and typically begins blooming soon after a fire. Its profusion of white blooms attracts honeybees and other insects and Saw Palmetto honey is excellent. Pollination of flowers results in olive-sized fruits in fall. These are favored by wildlife and are now used in medicines for treatment of prostate problems. The Saw Palmetto does have some pests of its own – including the Palmetto Weevil – at almost an inch long, the largest weevil in North America.
  • The Barred Owl is perhaps our best-known owl because it is active during the day as well as at night, nests and hunts in cities as well as in mature forest, and is somewhat tolerant of human observers. Barred Owls get their name from the vertical “bar” stripes on its breast. They are also well known for their distinctive “eight-hooter” call cadence of the phrase “Who cooks for you …Who cooks for you all. Barred Owls feed on a diversity of small animals – ranging from mice, small birds, small snakes, lizards, insects, and especially crayfish.
  • Milkweeds are diverse and widespread. They are also well known because of putative medicinal properties and now, especially because of their association with Monarch Butterflies. Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and their caterpillars feed on milkweeds – consuming toxic chemicals, which they store in their body, making both the caterpillars and the adult butterflies toxic and noxious to would be predators. What is less well known is that Monarch butterfly populations are declining rapidly. Why? Excessive use of herbicides that kill milkweeds along with other plants, clearing of land for human uses, pesticides that kill insects, and climate change are all likely involved. Florida is home to at least 24 species of milkweeds and also to a sizeable, but perhaps shrinking, monarch butterfly population – a population that includes migrant monarchs that pass through Florida from more northern breeding areas to wintering areas in Mexico and other areas south of us. There is much we don’t know, but scientists are concerned and investigating the potential links.
  • Storks are large, somewhat heron-like birds that spend a lot of time feeding and standing or sitting around – sometimes in small groups. Like herons and egrets, they feed on fish, crayfish and other small animals that they capture in aquatic environments. They are unique birds that may be most closely, but still distantly, related to pelicans. The Wood Stork is North America’s only native stork and is easily recognized by its primarily white plumage with black wing tips, a long heavy bill, long legs, pink feet, and a relatively bare head with wrinkled neck skin. A Wood Stork’s bill is not designed for spearing prey, but for deftly grabbing it. Among a Wood Storks unusual behaviors, a Wood Stork will often rest on its “heels” while sitting on the ground with its feet lifted above the ground. It will also sometimes stand on one leg with its other foot lifted and propped against the leg it is standing on.
  • The Limpkin is a large bird of wetland – especially swamp – habitats that can be found throughout Florida and only more recently and rarely in other southern states. It is a tropical species also found in Cuba and on other Caribbean Islands and well into tropical South America. The Limpkin is a food specialist – feeding primarily on large Apple Snails, but also taking clams and some insects. The Limpkin has been a game bird in Florida – but is now protected as a troubled species – troubled because of habitat losses and fragmentation of the suitable habitats that remain. Florida has only one native Apple Snail and its populations have also declined. Four additional Apple Snail species now occur in Florida and compete with the native species. All four are invasive exotics most likely introduced through the pet trade.