By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
Exceptionally few entertainers have been able to transition across the generations and still amuse a wide variety of audiences. The theatrical acts which held the attention of crowds in 1936 usually bore theater goers of 2016, but there are a few exceptions.
W.C. Fields still has a strong fan base thanks, in part, to the celluloid recordings of his timeless comedy performances even though he passed into history 70 years ago. His portrayals of a bumbling and hapless every-man have generated sympathetic fans for almost a century.
As with any comedian, Fields has lines which were associated only with him. One of those was the leering snarl, “Ahhh, my little chickadee”, which has generated countless laughs for Fields and his many imitators over the decades.
Fields was much travelled, but is not known to have visited Wakulla County. Chickadees, however, are commonly found in north Florida.
Seven species of the genus Poecile are native to North America. The black-capped chickadee, Poecile atricapillus, is the non-migratory songbird species which calls this area home.
Classified as a passerine or perching bird, it has three toes facing forward and one backwards. This common, but not universal, characteristic makes standing or roosting on branches much easier.
A small bird, it ranges in body lengths of four and a half to six inches. Wing span can reach slightly over eight inches with the males being identical in appearance with females, only a bit larger.
Insects are a primary dietary staple during the summer. Caterpillars are a particular seasonal favorite and form a large part of this songbird’s summertime diet.
An agile flyer, this bird will sometime pursue flying insects. Chickadees have been observed patiently hovering while stalking insects that dart for easy cover in dense foliage.
During late autumn and winter, seeds and dried berries fill in for the absent insects. Beautyberry, dogwoods, sparkleberry and others sustain this bird through the lean cold months.
Still, they will seek out larvae and insect eggs hidden under bark and leaf letter. Their days are spent hopping along branches in search of the morsel.
Chickadees are a frequent visitor to homes with birdfeeders. Black oil sunflower seed is popular with this species which usually take the seed to a nearby branch to crack and eat.
The regular avian visits to the birdfeeder can attract the attention of a native predator, the rat snake. An excellent climber, this reptile will wait with absolute stillness for an unsuspecting chickadee to come within striking range.
The song of the black-capped chickadee contains only two notes, but many patterns for projecting these tones. Other chickadee species have additional notes and different songs.
It has been speculated the songs or calls are a form of interspecies communication between these birds. Even though physically close, living in dense foliage the birds are frequently out of each other’s sight.
The name chickadee comes from the human interpretation of this bird’s primary call. With its many positive attributes, this tiny songbird is a welcome garden visitor.
Much like W.C. Fields, Wakulla County’s nature lovers appreciate the little chickadee.